Chapter 1: Let me Tell You a Story
“A long time ago, in the future, the world came to a sudden and surprising end.
“The great world powers had become tired of ceaseless war ravaging the world they called home. The planet was past its breaking point and if humanity did not turn for the better they would all be wiped from existence by Mother Earth herself. Humanity had to overcome years of war, prejudice, and hatred to establish a benevolent world government, and they did. Against all odds, humanity crushed its basest natures and turned for the better. It took many years but eventually poverty and starvation were a distant memory, and technology had progressed beyond what was ever thought possible. Humanity had beaten death itself. Vast metropolises populated by tens of millions punctuated the clean, pristine, landscapes. The air was clean, the oceans were freed from their trappings of pollution, and the world had been liberated from its seemingly guaranteed future of total annihilation. Time passed, people turned their heads from their homes on Earth to the stars above. Things were looking up, things were downright utopian, but of course, as with every utopia, not everyone was satisfied.
“There were those who felt that this new age of peace was detrimental to humanity that the overarching control implemented by the government had stunted its growth. These people though that humankind needed war, and hatred, and death, to thrive, despite stark appearances to the contrary. Across the globe acts of terror were carried out in the name of a new world, in the name of progress. Brutal murders were carried out seemingly at random; the cold daggers of fear and paranoia were thrust into the minds of the people, nobody was safe. These criminals were arrested and imprisoned of course, but like with any radical belief it spread, to the gullible, to the stupid, and most dangerously, to the powerful.
“To spur the already frightened people over the edge these terrorists decided to execute one final act, greater than any that had preceded it. Unfortunately for them all of history’s greatest war machines had been dismantled and destroyed, the blueprints destroyed or lost, the very existence of these cataclysmic weapons of mass destruction had been wiped from the face of the earth. But luckily for them humanity hadn’t managed to destroy all of its weapons. Deep beneath the earth, buried by some long forgotten war from millennia long past they waited. Ancient, nuclear bombs, powerful enough to level an entire city and hundreds of miles of the surrounding countryside, the problem was finding these earthshakers. Records spoke of an ancient lost armory but not its exact location, but it was enough. After years of digging they found the armory and they found the bombs, as pristine as the day they were manufactured. Each only the size of a man’s fist, they were smuggled into the largest cities and were set to detonate all at the same time.
“In an instant three quarters of the human population evaporated, blasted back into atoms, where towering cities once stood only craters of glass remained. The terrorists had won, that much was certain, but they wound up destroying themselves with the rest of humanity. In mere moments humankind was blasted back into the Stone Age, all of its knowledge buried beneath the dust of time. For millennia they survived in darkness, primitive roots bursting to the surface. In parts of the world people regressed, they became the image of their ancient forefathers and lived as such, some regressed even further. In some places the vast quantities of radiation had mutated the mind and body and those affected became like their oldest ancestors, vicious and animalistic. The metropolises were abandoned as they crumbled to dust, humanity set out to start anew. Agrarian communities began to form and man began tilling the earth as his forefathers had done countless generations before.
“The old way, the old knowledge was preserved. In the deepest corners of the earth, handed down from father to son, mother to daughter, to be kept in the shadows until the time was right, the knowledge that once let humanity conquer the earth was sequestered. Some of those who possessed the old knowledge would venture out into the world to try and better humanity, but more often than not they found themselves with a rope around their neck hanging from a tree. It went on like this for many years, millennia even, failure after failure, until one man set humanity back on track. He set off not with the benevolent intentions of his predecessors, no, he set out for conquest. This man used his knowledge and charisma to build an army of mercenaries, who had no qualms about using his technology, and conquered the largest of humankind’s cities.
“The city of Knossos was unprepared. In less than four hours the entire population was rounded up and presented to this technological warlord, they were to build him a new city to the south, a gleaming metropolis like those humanity had inhabited in an age long past. Forty thousand people were marched many miles south to the shores of Lake Halgue, and they built. These people who were little more than farmers were thrust into a new technological age whether they liked it or not. A glimmering metropolis grew from what was once a smoking hole in the ground, government, infrastructure, education, all followed. Humanity had been modernized once again.
The group around the campfire was silent, some shook their heads in disbelief at the story their fellow had just told, all that could be heard was the snap of the fire and the braying of the oxen until finally one began laughing out loud.
He took a long draught from his pipe. “Ya! Shuddup. I’ve ‘eard some bad stories ‘n my time but that’n takes the biscuit.” He began chuckling once more; it quickly devolved into a nasty wheezing cough.
“Well, that’s what my father told me and what his father told him,” the story-teller said defensively.
“Bah, don’t mind him; he’s just a bitter old man.” The caravan leader smiled at the story-teller. “Chances are there is a kernel of truth behind your story, but we’ll never know for certain.” Everything was silent for a moment more until he slapped his knees. “Alright, lights out, get your packs and bundle up, it’ll be cold tonight, I’ll take first watch.”
Dawn broke on another brisk autumn day, a stiff western wind whipped playfully through the ranks of the merchant caravan as they trudged across the dismal grey landscape. This small caravan, consisting of merely five men a handful of oxen and two large wooden carts, was bound from the trade city of Sampras for the shining city of Alcadon. It had been a long journey fraught with perils and the inescapable exhaustion of boredom, but now they drew near to their destination. From the driftwood-laden western bank of the vast Lake Halgue they could see the massive Schultz building stretching into the sky, a twisted mile tall pillar of glass, steel, and concrete that punctuated the jagged, foggy, skyline.
The merchants had heard many troubling stories from Alcadon speaking of great strife and tragedy, but desperate for wealth, the merchants disregarded such rumors. Money was money, and these men would risk much to get it. Breaking camp the merchants snuffed their fires and urged their oxen northward over the top of the Halgue, following the well trodden road to their final destination.
That evening, just as they crossed the northernmost point of the Lake a cry from the caravan leader called the procession to a halt. Barring the road was a large group of scruffy men and women, their clothes were grey with filth and their bodies were thin and ragged. Even in the dim light of dusk, the merchants could see the desperation of these people. They bore a variety of weapons, clubs, pitchforks, and an odd firearm could be seen, a rare sight in the hands of a lowly band of bandits such as them. The merchants prepared for a fight, they’d driven off bandits on their journey, losing one of their own in the process, but not this many at once. They unsheathed their swords and waited for their foes to advance.
It was a stalemate, neither side made the first move, the final remnants of the sun slowly set behind the flat horizon. Soon it would be dark and it would be impossible for the merchants to defend their precious cargo. As the last glimmers of sunlight faded and the purple skies of dusk descended, the bandit group, now mere silhouettes, spurred into action. Silently they sprinted, quieter than the whispering breeze, weapons raised, to massacre the caravan.
A sharp cry of alarm could be heard from the back of the group then the thud of a body hitting the ground, then another, and another. Something was attacking them from behind! The bandits were taken completely off guard, was this a trick from the merchants? Gathering together in a group, the bandits faced outwards towards this new foe. More bandits fell to this unseen enemy, it was in their ranks! Weaving through them like an angel of death killing all with a touch. In precious few seconds not a single bandit remained standing, all slain before they’d gone fifty feet.
The merchants didn’t let their guard down, the screams and cries of the bandits only strengthened their resolve, for it was just as likely that their savior was after their goods as well. Those with the keenest hearing could hear soft footfalls, barely perceptible over the gentle lapping of the nearby shore, padding towards them. Night had fallen in earnest; the once grey landscape was now pitch black with the faint glimmer of Alcadon in the distance granting no favors to visibility.
Cocking his head to the side, listening for footsteps, the caravan leader called to the watching darkness, “Who are you? Are you friend or foe!?”
A soft female voice came from directly behind him. “Worry not, I am a friend.” There was a small rustle of grass as she passed him by and moved through the caravan unseen.
The caravan leader, careful not to make any sudden moves lest he startle this woman, responded, “Aye? Then you’ll not mind if I reach for my lantern to give us all some light?”
“I welcome it,” responded the voice, this time from above.
He unslung his pack and rifled through it, finally he pulled out a small electric lantern. Flipping the switch illuminated a grisly scene. Every bandit was dead, backs twisted at unnatural angles, clearly broken, savage looks of shock frozen onto their stiffening features. He and his fellows recoiled in shock at the sight of the bodies.
He whipped the lantern around the caravan, searching for whatever monster could enact such savagery so effortlessly. “What kind of creature are you that can so easily break a man’s back as if it were a dry branch? Are you an Indra, one of the guardians of the land of Alcadon? Or are you a spirit sent by the old gods to protect us?”
The woman chuckled at that last one. “Oh nothing so grand,” her voice seemed to come from every direction. “I’m just a traveler, much like you men. I have no wares to sell so I go wherever the wind takes me and never hesitate to help those in need of my… services.”
“I’ll believe your words when I see you for myself,” he called to the mysterious woman.
“Then see me,” she said.
The traveler dropped from where she was reclining on top of one of the wagons, the ground reverberated as she hit the ground, her feet sunk into the firm earth. She was tall and wrapped in a travel stained heavy cloak obscuring her body; a heavily laden rucksack was slung over her back. Her boots were in incredibly poor shape with the synthetic rubber soles being split and flaking away, no doubt from heavy use. Her hood was pulled up, hiding her head from view, though a few strands of frazzled auburn hair could be seen wrapping around its hem. Tightly wrapped across her mouth and left eye were strips of cloth, clearly noticeable was the lack of a bump where her nose would be, she was likely hiding terrible disfigurement.
The caravan leader stepped back a few paces, surprised by her sudden appearance, he kept his voice firm. “I see you’re wrapped up well, any reason for such a getup?”
The woman adjusted the cloth around her face, spacing it out as it bunched up. “I wear this mask to protect those I meet from my face; I’ve found that when I keep it on people tend not to flee from me as quickly.” She brushed past the merchant, making to walk back into the flatlands. “If you men will forgive me for intruding, I need to make camp for the night.”
“There’s no need for that!” he called after her. “Please, share our fire with us tonight, it is rare for us to meet travelers such as yourself, we can swap stories.” The merchant leader indicated a small rudimentary fire pit being dug by one of his fellows. “Judging from your direction is it safe to assume you’re recently from Alcadon?”
The woman turned about. “Why yes, quite astute of you.” She began walking back to the caravan. “I’ll gladly share your fire tonight.”
There was soon a healthy fire going and the group gratefully sat around it, the tendrils of heat saturating their frigid bodies. Several had pulled out pipes and were blowing smoke rings into the updraft of the fire. A comfortable silence fell on the group as the driftwood logs smoked and snapped.
“So tell us…” one of the merchants asked to the stranger, “what news from Alcadon? We’ve heard many different stories as to what’s happened; would you care to tell us yours?”
The woman let out a hearty chuckle. “Forget the stories you’ve heard, they’re no doubt mere shadows of the truth, or so embellished that they border upon the realms of fiction.” She let out a weary sigh. “Gentleman, I want you to tell this tale to everyone you meet, crush the false rumors and spread my truth across the country.”
One of the merchants squinted his eyes whilst taking a long draught from his pipe. “You speak as if you were there.” He let out a small cough as he blew geysers of smoke from his nose.
She raised her eyebrow. “It does not matter if I was there or not for I know, and by the end you will too, that this is in fact the truth.” She shrugged. “Even if you don’t believe me, you’ll at least have an interesting story to tell.” She leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees and stared deep into the fire. “Let’s set the scene, shall we?”
Chapter 2: An Important Meeting
Laverne T. Schultz was a man who defied age. His stature was thin and wiry and his features were sharp and severe. Despite his rather harsh appearance though, his eyes were creased with laugh lines, cutting an odd juxtaposition as he rarely ever smiled. His sandy blonde hair was immaculately groomed while still looking tousled; his goatee had just the perfect amount of grey in it. Etched in his face was the wisdom of a lifetime yet he looked no older than 35. Dressed in a perfectly tailored blue suit he looked every bit as authoritative as the greatest of kings and yet still exuded an unexplainable air of approachability, you could easily tell this man your deepest secrets.
Laverne T. Schultz propped his feet on his polished hardwood desk and gently pushed backwards; the springs in his plush leather chair creaked as it reclined. Placing his feet to the edge of the desk he pushed away and rolled backwards toward his massive picture window. He deftly spun about and gazed out of the window, three hundred and seventy seven stories up Laverne was the tallest man in the world, no one was above him, not even the gods of man. Through the window he saw the spires of the tallest buildings peeking up through the thick layer of brown smog, the smog of industry, contrasting heavily with the crisp blue sky, like the fingers of the damned reaching for salvation. He let out a frustrated groan, there had been several raids in the outskirt slums and the food crisis had taken a sudden turn for the worse. The city was starving and worse yet it was growing. The population report had just come in, everything was up 45% over the past sixteen months, Alcadon was growing, and it was growing too fast, there were just too many mouths to feed. Alcadon, the last vestige of civilization on this barren planet, and it was going down in flames. He swiveled back around struck with an idea, quickly standing from his chair he walked back to his desk. He pressed a small button and said as if to no one.
“Shelly, could you come up here for a moment?” His voice was deep and dispassionate, showing barely a hint of emotion.
A small voice issued from his desk, “right away Mr. Schultz!” A small scuffle of papers could be heard and the sound cut out.
Laverne turned back around to view his paradise; he knew what he had to do, in order to keep the city running sustainably, certain… sacrifices had to be made. After all, obsolescence was a natural part of progress.
Several stories beneath him, in a cluttered office filled to the brim with filing cabinets and loose sheets of paper, a young woman in her early twenties frantically scrabbled about on the ground. Silently fuming, she stuffed papers back into the grey file, looking closer at the papers she saw that they were numbered. She let her arms drop limply and stared at the ceiling, searching for the will to go on. Disregarding the order of the papers, she lumped them back in the file and slammed it on her desk. Checking the mirror on the wall next to the door she made sure her hair and makeup were satisfactory. She tossed a few of her bleached blonde locks of hair about and touched up her cherry red lipstick before opening the heavy wooden door and making her way down the thin beige hallway to the elevator.
Pressing the burnished metal button, she waited for the elevator to arrive. Looking at the small display above the door she saw the floor numbers tick up, 25… 29… 35… 55… 79… 110… 160… 230… 289… 356… 370… ten seconds later there was a small happy ding as the elevator doors opened. Stepping inside the wood lined capsule she fiddled around with the small touchscreen display, inputting a code and waited for the doors to close once more. She mashed the ‘close door’ button several times.
A slightly robotic female voice spoke from a small speaker beneath the display, “Hold your horses sweetie, I gotta wait for other possible passengers, its standard protocol.”
The woman’s voice was impatient as she began shifting her weight side to side. “Marge, we both know I’m the only one on this floor.”
Marge responded, she sounded as annoyed as the woman. “Well yeah, but there’s a log for all the times I break protocol, any more and I’ll get a ‘service’.”
The polished silver doors slid closed and Marge went quiet. The elevator slowly made its way up the building.
“Marge?” The woman’s voice was growing increasingly impatient.
“Yes deary?” Marge responded innocently.
Marge let out a small sigh of frustration. “Shelly, it’s seven floors, I need time to brake otherwise you’ll rocket out the top of the building and fly into space.” The elevator dinged and the doors slid open. “Well would you look at that, we’re here; it only took you fifteen seconds!”
Shelly stepped out of the elevator and quickly made her way to the ornate double doors at the end of the too long hallway. Whose bright idea was it to make a computer with attitude, and then make it the defacto system for the whole building? She wondered about the intricacies of sentient computers for a short time as she rushed down the hallway. Speaking of sentient computers, as the double doors grew closer, the two Indra bodyguards, Famine and Pestilence, barred the way restricting Shelly’s entry into Schultz’ office. Pestilence pressed a small intercom button on the nearby wall.
Shelly spoke loudly at the intercom. “Mr. Schultz I have arrived and need your permission to enter.”
Schultz voice responded, sounding slightly miffed. “C’mon you two, I told you before, you don’t have to do your gatekeeper act with my secretaries.” He was silent for a moment. “Oh, is Famine out there?” He sighed, “Alright let her pass.”
The two Indra fluidly stepped aside and Shelly pushed open one of the massive doors and eased herself inside.
She weaved around the many comfortable looking chairs and ornately carved tables dotting the large room, the plush carpet absorbing the sound of her footfalls. “You asked for me Mr. Schultz?” she said as she approached the enormous desk.
He quickly turned around and sprang to his feet enthusiastically, his gloomy demeanor instantly changed. “Shelly! My favorite niece! It’s so good to see you! Say, how long have you been my secretary?”
She stopped moving and answered rather rigidly, “About six months Mr. Schultz.” She was well aware that she was his only niece.
“Six months?” He put on a perplexed look. “Has it really been that long? You’ve lasted far longer than any other secretary I’ve had yet, and are by far the best.” He made his way around the desk to stand beside her.
Shelly’s eyes widened, compliments from her uncle were uncommon at the best of times. “Really? You really mean that Mr. Schultz?” She cleared her throat. “Um… thank you Mr. Schultz.”
He looked down at her, a rare smile creasing his features. “Yes I do sweetie, and call me Uncle, please, there’s no formality between family.” He gave her a small tap on the nose; Shelly recoiled slightly, what had gotten into him?
She stumbled over her words, still trying to be professional. “Thank you Mr. Sch- I mean, thank you Uncle.” The word felt alien in her mouth. Why is he being so nice to me? She wondered. He barely spoke five words a day to her and now here he was being downright chummy.
Gently he corralled her over towards his giant panoramic window, the smog was light that day, and one could almost make out the dim shapes of the smaller buildings below.
His eyes shone with pride but his face was pinched with sadness. “This is a view that no one but myself and a small few others have ever seen my dear, what do you think?”
“Oh it’s beautiful Uncle!” Her eyes were wide, drinking up every detail they afforded to her. She’d heard stories of the size of Alcadon but she’d always thought them exaggerated, but now she realized that the stories came nowhere near the absolute scale of it all, the sprawling city seemed to go on forever. Looking out further she could see the vast wastes of the Mhoroyshi Salt flats stretching across the horizon, the curvature of the earth was almost visible. A small feeling wriggled in the back of her mind, a feeling of suspicion.
Schultz spoke, crushing that feeling. “When Alcadon was founded all those years ago, there was nothing, and now look, look at my creation. The last bastion of mankind rests here, protected by our wonderful military. Your brother Ellis joined our military service, isn’t that right?”
She didn’t turn her head as she responded she was so affixed on the unbelievable view. “Yes Uncle.”
He smirked to himself; she was just like he was the first time, he felt a small pang of nostalgia. “Has he been enjoying his time with our illustrious army?”
She finally tore her eyes away and looked up at Schultz. “Oh yes Uncle, he says it’s very hard work, but it’s worth it to serve and protect your beautiful city.” She didn’t envy Ellis, she was more than happy to be Schultz’ secretary. He’ll never get a view like this on the ground. She felt a smug smile stretch across her face, she quickly changed her expression.
Schultz pulled at his goatee in thought. “Really? I’ll have to have a chat with General Sullivan and see about getting him promoted, he sounds like one smart cookie.”
Shelly looked thoughtful for a moment. “Uncle, what’s a cookie?”
Laverne T. Schultz cracked another smile. “Nothing to worry about my dear.” Sharply he turned around and started rummaging through his desk opening and closing several drawers before finding what he was looking for, a small sheet of expensive looking paper and a pen. “Here, my dear, I have something special I need you to deliver, a letter.”
She turned around and watched her uncle scribble away with his fancy fountain pen; she wished she had something like that in her office, maybe she’ll ask next time. “Of course Uncle, where do you want me to deliver it to?” She didn’t want to leave this brand new world she’d been shown, but work was work and this was her uncle after all.
He finished writing the letter and signed it with a flourish. “Take this to Doctor Fitsch on Engineering Level Seven; they’ll know what to do with it.” He quickly folded the paper and stuffed it into an envelope and handed it to her. “Remember give this to Doctor Fitsch and nobody else, this is very important to me.”
“Right away Uncle!” She turned and began weaving her way through the sea of chairs and tables.
“Oh, um, sweetie, here take my private elevator.” He walked to one of the ornately carved sculptures set into the wall, a bust of his own head, and gave the nose a little flick. The adjacent head spun around and Schultz tapped a short code into the small keypad that emerged.
Shelly could hear Marge’s voice quietly say, “Biometric readings verified.”
A small doorway opened noiselessly revealing a small industrial looking elevator bathed in a soft blue light.
Schultz motioned for Shelly to step inside. “Just tell it to take you to Engineering Level Seven and you’ll be there in no time at all, don’t let Marge give you any attitude.”
Shelly could hear a small huff come from the elevator. “Alright!” She eagerly stepped into the tiny elevator. “Engineering Level Seven,” she said firmly. The elevator door began to hiss closed.
Schultz, stopped the door from closing all the way, he had a small smile on his face when he spoke. “When you deliver that come right back up, I need to talk to you about an advancement opportunity.” He looked almost prideful. He let go of the door, leaving Shelly looking rightly confused as she was whisked away.
Laverne T. Schultz sauntered back to his chair and reclined in a comfortable fashion, everything was going to be perfect. It was a long shot; an incredibly long shot, but if things panned out properly then everything would turn for the better. He wasn’t going to be around forever, that was simply a given, he had to plan for the future.
As the elevator sped down the building Marge began chattering away. “Wow, he let you use his personal elevator, he doesn’t even let me do that.”
Shelly scoffed, though she was beginning to feel slightly claustrophobic. “Marge, you’re a computer, you are his personal elevator.” Her mind was afire with Schultz last statement. ‘Advancement opportunity’? What did he mean by that?
Marge was silent. Several seconds passed and she still didn’t respond.
“Marge? C’mon, where’s your snarky reply?” Shelly’s voice was tinged with fear. The elevator juddered slightly, jostling her somewhat.
The elevator continued silently, Shelly began to squirm in discomfort. The ride was taking too long, Engineering was only halfway up the building, she must have been in the foundations by now.
Somewhere, deep below the tower, the elevator’s door finally opened to a wall of murky darkness, its fitful blue light no match for the oily blackness, an indescribable stench wafted into the elevator.
Shelly cautiously stepped out of the tiny capsule pinching her nose to block the stench; her stomach was on the verge of upending. “Hello! Is anybody there? I think there was an elevator malfunction. Hello!” Her footsteps echoed dully across the wire mesh flooring.
She tripped and fell on something. Turning over into a sitting position, she gave it a few prods with her shoe; she couldn’t quite make out what it was. Cold moisture began to soak into her pants from where she was sitting, she quickly pushed herself up, the moisture clung to her hands. Dry heaving, she stumbled back to the dim light of the elevator, kicking away several more unseen objects, some made soft clattering noises while others made wet thuds. In the dull blue light she could see that her pants and hands were covered in blood.
She opened and closed her mouth a few times; fear constricting her voice, finally a primal scream tore from her throat. “Take me back to my Uncle! Take me back!” Shelly screamed at the elevator, Marge remained silent. “PLEASE!” The elevator stayed still, door open. A shuffling could be heard deep in the gloom, heavy mechanical breathing permeated the air, she was not alone. Shelly whirled around facing the darkness, eyes wide with fear. “Please take me back, please.” Shelly was sobbing and hyperventilating uncontrollably as her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she could make out something stealing through the darkness, something not human. The smell began to make her woozy her periphery began to cloud. “Please, plea…”
A giant pale hand emerged from the darkness enveloping her face and gripping it like a vice, Shelly couldn’t even scream, it ripped her out of the elevator and into the oily blackness. A reedy, whistling laugh cut through the air like a knife, a second hand gripped the back of Shelly’s head as she struggled weakly, and it twisted sharply. A loud snap could be heard and a heavy thud as Shelly’s lifeless body hit the cold metal floor, her neck snapped like a dry twig. Two meaty hands gripped her ankles and pulled her away through the darkness, toward unspeakable evil, still clutched tightly in her hand was the letter.
Chapter 3: LE
Despite what Laverne T. Schultz claimed, Alcadon was not the first structure to grace that picturesque stretch of land. Deep beneath the city, a winding labyrinth of ancient tunnels spread like a spider’s web. The corridors, or what were left of them, were in an understandable state of disrepair, decrepit and crumbling. Frankly it was a miracle that any of these passageways could still bear the weight of the city above. If one were to spend a lifetime wandering they still would not discover every nook and cranny sequestered away in these dank tunnels, they would however find something unusual. Down these long abandoned passageways, past countless doors long rusted shut, hiding their secrets in an eternal embrace; one would find a small light piercing the darkness.
The dim light emanated from beneath one of these long forgotten rusty doors. Inside the small cramped room, filled floor to ceiling with books and destroyed machinery, a wizened man sat at a small desk with a tiny lamp pointed to the object of his obsession. A microchip no bigger than a postage stamp carefully soldered into a tiny controller board all nestled into a mess of wiring spilling over the sides of the desk and onto the floor. Peering through his bifocals and through the glass magnifier he added the final microscopic blob of solder, he may have been old but his hands were as steady as the table they rested on. The mysterious Dr. Banthu, much like Schultz, had an age that was impossible to determine, but on the opposite end of the spectrum, one would be forgiven for thinking he was as old as the tunnels he worked in. A gentle knock could be heard, somebody was at the door.
Doctor Banthu, let out a small huff and gave the chip one final inspection. Slowly he raised himself from his uncomfortable chair, his ancient joints popping and snapping as they moved for the first time in hours. “Come in!” he called gruffly to his visitor.
The door opened slowly the squeak of rusty hinges filled the still air, a rotund man in a sharp military outfit squeezed through the narrow doorway, careful not to get any dust on his immaculate badge laden jacket. “Ah, doctor, I’ve come to check up on your progress, how are things moving along?” Despite his apathetic appearance he was genuinely curious.
The old doctor smiled showing his toothless gums. “You actually arrived at the perfect moment General Sullivan; I have just finished the installation and was about to start the preparations for initial powering and testing.” He slowly bent over and began grasping at several tiny jump leads.
Sullivan, not wanting to see the old man struggle, crouched down and placed the wires in Banthu’s hands. Banthu gave Sullivan a grunt of thanks and began fiddling with a large grey box situated next to the desk.
Sullivan straightened, tugging gently at his coat to even out the waist. He cleared his throat quietly; the amount of dust in the air was incredible. “Will it take you long? I don’t have much time before my next batch of meetings; I’m only here because Schultz cancelled on me again.”
“Oh, it won’t be long, just a few minutes.” Banthu stopped mucking with the box and simply gave it a sharp kick it sputtered and coughed to life, it was a small generator. “I just need to attach the leads and we can see if she will power on. If this works I’ll have to see about a more permanent power source. I assume you will be able to… acquire one for me General?” His tone was coy, his confidence in his work was easily apparent.
Sullivan stood back against the door, allowing Banthu ample room to work. “Of course, if ‘she’ works that is, I’m sure Doctor Fitsch won’t notice if a power cell goes missing.”
Banthu let out a small spluttering chuckle. “Indeed, the Sampras dig was truly a remarkable find; I never thought I’d see another Indra power core again.” He sighed, his eyes listless for a moment, he quickly snapped back to reality and finished the setup. “There and there, alright, she’s powered, now to turn her on.” Banthu fumbled around his stained white coat searching for something. Slipping his hand in one of the many pockets he drew out a tiny screwdriver. He pressed it into a nearly invisible button on the controller board.
Immediately the bundles of wiring began to move and shift, coiling up and loosening, forming vague appendages… It was alive! Banthu didn’t let himself get distracted, quickly he moved a strip of wires to an object hidden beneath a cloth; they wrapped around the object and stayed there. The wires let out a few spasms then returned to their normal fluid movement. Spreading outwards, the wiring began to paw at Banthu’s midsection; he stood still so as not to startle them. A thin tendril of wiring felt its way up his coat, stopping briefly at his chest; it felt the rising and falling as he breathed. Raising itself higher it began to trace Banthu’s wrinkled features, a massive smile split across his face, he began to chuckle with excitement. Gently the tendril lifted the bifocals off the doctor’s face; it then placed them back on, but upside down. It fell back into the writhing mass, becoming lost in the ever shifting cacophony of movement.
“Hey! Don’t be sassy you little miscreant,” the doctor said kindly, a little smile playing on his aged features; he turned about whilst correcting his bifocals and gestured for the General to come forward. “Well General, I think you’ll have to get me that power core, eh?”
Sullivan stepped forward and surveyed the writhing mass, he nodded in satisfaction. “Yes I think I will, I’ll have it to you by the end of the week, until then keep this quiet, there are spies everywhere.” His tone quickly turned serious. “If Burke finds out about this he’ll stop at nothing to ruin me.” He sneered in annoyance.
“Oh, come now general.” Banthu waved away his concerns. “You know me, the janitor is always the last to be questioned and besides what would a ‘mute’ say anyway?”
Sullivan deflated slightly, he knew Banthu was correct. “Right you are Doctor, right you are.” General Sullivan gave the creation one last look before turning and squeezing out of the tiny room, the clicks of his heels echoed faintly as they receded.
Banthu let out a good natured chuckle; he’d almost forgotten how paranoid the military mind could be. “Now then my dear, my little LE, now we’re finally alone…” He made his way to a series of large metal tanks, tucked away in the far corner of the room. “I think it’s time we make you a body…”
Schultz paced around his desk, desperate frustration easily visible. It had been almost a week since he’d announced his niece as missing and still nobody had found her. Half of the city was on the hunt, how could they have not found her yet? What happened!? How could Shelly have dropped off the face of the earth? After multiple services Marge still showed all green, Shelly was let off at Engineering, she never made it to Doctor Fitsch.
He let out a weary sigh, he hadn’t slept in days. “Alright, we’re doing it again.” He looked up at the three men standing before him, Generals Burke and Sullivan and the Chief Head of Law Enforcement, who squirmed uncomfortably. If it weren’t for these three he’d be down there right now searching with the rest of them.
Schultz made his way to the map of the city, it was divided into scores of small sections, most of which had been skewered with green tacks, indicating they’d been searched. He tore all of the tacks from the sections in the Industrial District, they clattered across the floor.
“You’re going to go back over the industrial district with a fine toothed comb,” he growled at the three. He turned to Sullivan and Burke. “Raid engineering, anything that could be remotely useful in finding her, I want you to take it, I’ll deal with Fitsch when she complains.” He turned to the Chief Head. “I want you and your men t—.”
A small chirp from his desk interrupted him. He looked over in annoyance. “What!?” Laverne snapped.
Marge sighed sadly. “They’ve found her, in the industrial district.”
Schultz felt a small bubble of hope swell inside of him. “Alive?” he said almost pleadingly.
Marge took a while to respond. “Sorry sweetie she’s dead.”
Schultz felt his stomach drop; his rage began to grow as rivulets of tears began to stream from his eyes. “How?” he snarled.
Marge described the state the search party had found Shelly in, such brutal atrocities even Schultz could barely stomach. Burke and Sullivan cringed deeply, even these hardened men were repulsed, the Chief Head buried his face in the trash can next to the desk as his lunch threatened to reappear.
Tears flowed down his face, Schultz took a shuddering breath. “Who did it?”
“We don’t know for sure, biometric readings are inconclusive. A quick investigation of the surrounding area shows footprints that correlate strongly with Shalti-made footwear, so the Sons are suspected.”
Laverne’s voice was dangerously calm. “Call the media.” Anger burned in his eyes.
The Chief Head tried to protest. “That wouldn’t be a good idea—.”
“Call them dammit!” Schultz nearly screamed.
The media responded with unusual haste. Within half an hour, representatives from every publication, large and small, crowded around Schultz’ desk. Microphones were piled in a small mountain, pointed at him. Dozens of camera’s and holo-recorders pointed at his face, ready to capture every minute twitch and expression he made. Laverne’s eyes were red, puffy, and still wet with tears, never before had Schultz looked so human, the press and the public waited with bated breath.
Schultz’ official cameraman dropped his hand, giving the signal. “Rolling… You’re live Mr. Schultz.”
Schultz took a shuddering breath. “Citizens of Alcadon, this is your leader Laverne T. Schultz, I do apologize for interrupting your regularly scheduled programming but I have to share news that is of the utmost importance to us all. You all know that a search has been ongoing for a missing member of my family this past week. I have just learned that my beloved niece, Shelly, was found dead in the industrial district just an hour ago, she was brutalized and murdered by persons known to the military and to myself. She was kidnapped and tortured and murdered by members of the Sons of Light and Freedom, a fringe organization who fear our technology and way of life. These are small-minded people who think the only way to exact change is to destroy, pillage and rape.
Schultz paused, wondering what to say next, usually he had a script. “For the past decade there have been sporadic raids on the far reaches of Alcadon, and the Shalti farming settlements that supply our food have been under near constant assault. They’ve placed a stranglehold on our food supply, but not to worry, I will be implementing a rationing system that will take effect later in the week that should mitigate this.
A small sigh of relief could be heard from some of the reporters.
Schultz continued. “The Sons of Light and Freedom have never made it this far into the city so I, my closest advisors, and senior military officials believe that they were assisted by spies who have infiltrated our society with the intentions of destroying it. It is unknown who these persons are but they are believed to be many in number and totally ruthless in carrying out their goals, our total destruction. If you observe any suspicious activity do not hesitate to report it to your local authorities, we need strength and unity now more than ever.” Schultz paused, and let out a rare reassuring smile. “Despite what I have just said, my good people, there is no need to panic. Our military will come down on these terrorists with the same ruthless determination that built our glorious city in the first place. I guarantee you all, that by the end of the year, these terrorists will be nothing but sour memories.
The reporters and the populace outside didn’t know quite how to react. For many it was the first time they’d heard of the Sons of Light and Freedom, others had only heard vague rumors. The mood inside the room was a strange mix of fear and relief, while some feared the threat of the Sons, others were confident in the military’s ability to snuff them out. The streets outside began to clear, many making a beeline back to their homes while others sped off to the many food dispensaries to grab as much as possible before the rationing took effect. A self imposed curfew took effect almost immediately.
Schultz looked at the many reporters, many of whom hadn’t moved since he finished his speech. “Ladies and gentleman of the press, if you would forgive me, I need some time to myself.” Schultz looked to be on the verge of another bout of tears.
The press silently gathered their equipment; Schultz turned his chair so that it was facing the window, mind racing, silently scheming cruel and brutal ways of crushing those who wronged him. His eyes lit up as he was struck with an idea.
He waited until the press and his staff had cleared then turned around. “Marge my dear?”
“Yes Laverne?” Marge responded, her trademark snark noticeably absent.
“Schedule a meeting with Doctor Fitsch, tomorrow at three.”
“There might be a small conflict with your three fifteen with Banthu’s prototype.”
“It’ll be brief.”
“Done, anything else?”
Schultz chuckled scornfully. “Heh, I’d kill for a coffee.” He stood up and looked out over the city; in the distance he could see the many smokestacks go quiet, no longer pumping their pollutants into the air. “Blue skies tomorrow,” he whispered.
Chapter 4: Meeting Schultz
During her trip a mile into the sky LE realized just how ridiculous she looked. It was as Doctor Banthu had said “I’m all for self expression my dear, but couldn’t you have picked something a bit less conspicuous?” Her legs were thicker than tree trunks, and her torso was nothing but corded steely muscle. Her shoulders were so massive that she could barely fit in the elevator she had to hold herself diagonally and crouch. Topping everything off she wound up with powder purple skin with turquoise and salmon highlights, what the hell? But it was as the doctor had said, the biomass formed itself in accordance with her personality, but there was no way that this was who she was!
“Good gracious you’re a tall one.” A female voice spoke in the elevator.
LE jumped slightly at the suddenness of the voice, then began trying to find who had spoken. “Hello? Is there somebody here?”
The voice spoke again, this time as surprised as LE. “Huh, you can talk… that’s new, the others don’t, they’re all the strong silent types.”
LE didn’t stop looking for where the voice was coming from, eventually after crunching over she finally found the small speaker beneath the screen. “Um, who are you?”
“My name is Marge, I’m the dazzling Schultz building computer system, Schultz might be the face, but I’m the brains.”
“So you run elevators?”
Marge chuckled. “Not just that. At this very moment I’m speaking to over three hundred people and running nearly seventy Trillion processes per second. The elevators are a little side gig to make me more likeable.”
“Are you an Indra like me?”
“Well… no, not really, I suppose I could be classified as a cousin. I can’t say anything else though it’s all really classified and the last time I blabbed about my inner workings they guy mysteriously vanished.” Marge chuckled good-naturedly
LE didn’t respond. An uncomfortable silence fell on the elevator.
“That was a joke,” Marge said lamely.
“I’m too young to understand humor,” was all LE said.
“Alright then, I’ll just let you ride this one out in peace.” Marge fell silent.
After what seemed like ages the elevator finally began to slow and came to a stop. A quiet ding could be heard and the polished silver doors began to open.
The elevator doors slid smoothly open revealing a long featureless hallway ending at a set of ornately carved double doors. Flanking the doors were two of the Four Horsemen, Death and Pestilence. She’d only heard descriptions of their weapons but had never seen an image of those who bore them. Death was tall and lanky, about a foot shorter than LE, and completely jet black with an aura of black smoke rising from his figure; he seemed to absorb the light around him. Pestilence was a sickly green with ridges highlighted in a deep umber red that made her look like she was in the process of melting, her skin was oddly luminescent as if it was wet; she barely came up to Death’s chest. Upon seeing LE emerge from the elevator both of them stood rigid and alert. Death wrapped his hand firmly around the handle of his whip while Pestilence pawed at her poison covered blade; neither took their gaze off this new threat.
As she made the long walk to the double doors LE could feel something rather odd, as if a presence was trying to claw its way into her mind. She tentatively opened her mind, so to speak, and let the presence in. A burst of emotion filled her head; a highly confused and inquisitive sensation rode through her brain like a wild animal, searching for something. LE flinched slightly; keeping her gaze on the two she saw no reaction from either of them. She traced this odd alien sensation back to its source, Death. Death was racing through her brain like a madman, she quickly shut her mind again and the sensation ceased, Death notably recoiled and nearly lost his composure. LE could now feel both of them, but in a more subtle way, unlike the wild dash Death made initially these were now quiet sensations, confusion, inquisitiveness, fear, and another LE couldn’t quite place.
The door slowly opened and a red haired woman wearing a stained white coat slipped out. She gave a perplexed look at LE as she walked past, unaware of the wireless mental gymnastics taking place.
As LE finally came upon the door, seriously that hallway was long, both Death and Pestilence barred the way, the subtle feelings became more intense, they now seemed questioning in nature.
LE stopped in front of the two, here’s hoping they’d listen. “Excuse me, I have an appointment wi—,“ she began.
The feelings of confusion intensified painfully, LE recoiled once again, quickly the feelings quieted. Both Death and Pestilence held out their hands, insistently inviting LE to take them. LE hesitated but took them, she felt a strange sensation in her hands, as if she was being rewired, it was mildly uncomfortable. A veritable tidal wave of questions flooded her mind, they conveyed the same feelings as before but now LE could hear the accompanying words. Who are you? What are you? How can you speak? Are you like us? Where did you come from? Tell us, please tell us! The wave of questions died down until just one could be heard; both asked in unison, “who are you?”
“Um, hello, I’m LE, I suppose technically I’m an Indra like you except I was constructed about a week ago.”
One of the voices sounded again, it was good natured and slightly apologetic, she assumed it was death from how deep it was. “Well then, let me be the first to welcome you to the mortal coil. I’m terribly sorry for my encroachment earlier, I had assumed your brain was the same model as ours and would automatically pair, it seems I was wrong. Your brain must be running different hardware as you seem to have the capability of human speech.” His voice hardened slightly. “How interesting, is that not interesting sister of mine?”
A soft accented female voice responded, she sounded like she could barely restrain her excitement. “Yes brother, this is most interesting; it seems the humans have found a way to construct Indra once again. Please don’t be mistaken little one, as excited as we are to have a new little sister; it is most troubling to learn that humans can once again build machines such as ourselves. There was a reason our project was abandoned and the last thing any of us wants is a repeat of last time. She shuddered slightly. If you’ll pardon us for a moment, we have to put out the Call, I’m sure everyone will be very excited to meet you, while we do that, please go inside.”
Before she left, LE had one final question. “I’m curious, how are we communicating right now?”
Death nodded. “Well… that’s a good question; normally we talk with an ancient form of wireless communication called Bluetooth. You don’t have a Bluetooth chip, which is why our initial attempts to speak with you failed. Right now we’re using a wired connection.”He pulled his hand away to reveal a thin tendril of fiber optic cabling shooting from the palm of his hand, LE looked at her own and saw a strand coming from her palm as well.
“Creepy,” LE said, slightly disgusted.
Death and Pestilence nodded good humouredly, stood aside, and opened the door, allowing LE entry into Mr. Schultz’ office.
The red haired woman, Doctor Marjorie Fitsch, stole several more glances at the massive Indra making its way down the hallway. How absolutely bizarre, normally her sister would have gushed to her for several hours if another Indra had been discovered. Normally she’d at least be notified; there wasn’t even an expedition into the Salt Flats scheduled. She shook her head and made her way down the stupidly long hallway to the elevator. With a cheerful ding the door was open and she was off to her workroom.
Marge was silent the entire ride down, perhaps she feared her creator.
The doors opened and she began weaving her way around the innumerable beige corridors, Doctor Fitsch savored the respect in the eyes of those she passed. She put a slight scowl on her face to deter any unwanted conversation. Passing by her sister’s workroom she heard a loud clattering noise and a small thud, peeking inside she saw her sister crouched beneath one of her many messy tables searching for something.
“Klutz,” Fitsch muttered under her breath as she kept walking.
Turning the final corner she stood in front of her workroom door, a small piece of paper was tacked to it. She pulled the paper from the door and rubbed away the adhesive residue with her thumb. It was an invite to the floorwide anniversary celebration for Doctor Brummel. Marjorie opened the door and threw the invitation in her overflowing trash bin. She didn’t have time for celebrations, Schultz wanted the impossible and she had to deliver.
She sat at her desk for several minutes with her head in her hands as she tested and failed plans in her head. Manufacturing would be nightmare enough the proposed design looked positively ridiculous, but the software?
“UGH!” Fitsch threw her hands up in defeat. “Dammit Schultz…” He knew what he was asking for was nearly impossible without months, in not years, of preplanning and troubleshooting, it just wasn’t possible!
Forgetting the pressing matter for a moment she looked over at a squat grey box on the table, it had a narrow screen and a small keyboard set into its face. She fired up the communications terminal; it made a small asthmatic humming noise as the custom cooling functions kicked in. Clicking through the profiles of the various staff members she finally settled on her sister’s. Moving the floating cursor set into the side of the keyboard she clicked the message icon and quickly typed, “They found a new Indra” and shot it off. She left the terminal on as a veritable barrage of messages rained in from her sister, of course she’d reply so quickly.
Fitsch chuckled to herself as she watched the messages pile up. She felt something wiggle in the back of her mind, a tiny idea began to form and grow. The solution was on the tip of her tongue but she couldn’t quite word it. There was one final message from her sister.
“MArge!” was all it said.
Marjorie scowled slightly, her sister knew that she hated being called that, suddenly it hit. Extraneous capital aside, it was the final piece to the puzzle. Fitsch pushed herself backwards, letting her chair do the heavy lifting; she rolled backwards to a nondescript file cabinet. She launched a glob of spit at the lock and with a quiet hiss the door opened. After wiping the lock with some disinfectant she began pawing through the safe’s contents. She came away with a small circular object; she gently closed the door once more, leaving it slightly ajar.
Rolling back to the communications terminal she pressed a complicated sequence of buttons and a small window opened up in the bottom corner of the screen. After inputting a stream of gibberish disguised as a password the window enlarged filling the whole screen.
Flicking a small latch on the circular object a thin sheet of magnetic tape emerged, she loaded the tape cartridge into a small port on the terminal and the satisfying clunks of the device locking filled the room. The tech was ancient, but that was the point. Pressing a key, the machinery whirred into life; a high pitched buzzing noise could be heard as the tape was pulled from the cartridge into the machine. Ten seconds later the device whirred again as the tape was rewound.
“I love these things.” She muttered.
Icons filled the screen, programming notes, simulations, documents, and spreadsheets, terabytes upon terabytes worth of data. Grabbing a blank tape cartridge from a small supply she kept for situations such as this, she fed it into the machine, it locked into place. She proceeded to copy everything, a few seconds later she popped the cartridge out of the terminal and powered the machine down. Tossing the original tape back in the safe she closed it fully, she hurriedly walked out of her workroom.
Plastering her ‘don’t talk to me’ scowl on her face once more she made her way down to the parts storeroom.
Project Gamma was going to be a resounding success; the Sons wouldn’t stand a chance.
LE was immediately floored by the size of it, she was used to the claustrophobic corridors beneath the tower, this was like a whole new world. The room was lavishly furnished, oil paintings in elaborate frames hung on the walls, and the floor was covered in thick wool rugs. Various styles of chair, sofa, and table were scattered about in circles and semicircles throughout the room, a seat for every occasion. Enormous crystal chandeliers hung from the ceiling, casting a warm orange glow on everything, though most of the light was pouring in through a positively giant picture window that spanned from wall to wall. So tall was the Schultz building and so wide was the view LE could see the vast, dismal, Halgue Flatlands in the distance past Lake Halgue, it was a truly awe inspiring sight. And there, seated in front of the window, behind a desk made of likely extinct woods was Mr. Laverne T. Schultz, framed by the rosy pink light of dawn.
Upon her entrance he snapped shut the book he was reading, and looked up, his mood was as impossible to determine as his age. “Welcome my dear, I’ve been expecting you.” He stood from his chair and walked around to where LE was standing. “I’ve been hearing vague progress reports from General Sullivan for so long I was beginning to think you were just a figment of his disturbed imagination, and yet here you stand.” He began circling her like a vulture. “According to what Doctor Banthu has told me you have a more advanced chip serving as your brain, the LE Model is that correct?”
“That is correct sir,” LE responded.
“Ah.” Schultz’ eyes widened. “Banthu also said you’re capable of human speech. I’ll admit that I had assumed he was exaggerating, I see now I was mistaken. It seems he found a way to make the LE chipset function after all. You’re a rare breed.” His inspection became more thorough. “What are these small holes on your arms and legs?”
LE remained rigid, the amount of staring Schultz was doing was making her slightly uncomfortable, she didn’t like being equated to an object. “From what I can tell they’re air jets sir.” She responded stiffly. “I can draw large amounts of air into my body and expel them with great force, it improves my agility. They are also able to create a vacuum if properly placed on a wall allowing me to cling to sheer surfaces; I have hundreds interspersed on points across my body” She inhaled and the many pockets situated beneath her muscles expanded, she gently let out the air with a soft hiss.
Schultz let out a small whistle of appreciation. “Well then, that’s very interesting, very interesting.” Schultz thought for a moment. “I think a demonstration is in order. Death! Pestilence! Could you come in please?”
The door to the office swung quietly open and the two stepped silently inside.
Schultz lightly clapped his hands together. “Alright you three, I’d like for you all to go down to the gymnasium. I want to test out LE’s combat capabilities with some light sparring.”
Death and Pestilence nodded in unison, and smartly turned around and made their way to the elevator.
As he walked down the hallway Death stretched his neck and rolled his shoulders and said to Pestilence, “This will be fun; it’s been too long since I’ve had a new sparring partner, I wonder how the others are going to react.”
LE could see a spark of excitement break through Schultz’ perfect façade. “You go along and follow them; I’ll take my private elevator.” He quickly made his way over to the far wall and began fiddling with several carved busts.
LE turned about and left the office, careful to close the door behind her. Quickly she jogged after the two, who were politely holding the elevator open for her; the floor juddered with her massive footfalls. It was quite a process fitting the three of them into the one elevator but they somehow managed.
“I think you could give Wall a run for his money girth-wise, how tall are you anyway?”Pestilence asked, her head crammed under LE’s armpit.
“Seven feet eight inches,” LE responded a bit defensively, she had to stand upright for the other two to fit, her head and shoulders were bent at an odd angle. “I’m sorry about that; it’s just how I came out.”
Pestilence responded giving LE a gentle pat with her free hand.“It’s alright we understand, though I can’t say I’m looking forward to sparring with you, I doubt our weapons are even capable of cutting you with the armor your sporting. Hey Death, how’s your hand-to-hand?”
LE could hear a fluttering sigh from Pestilence. “Well shit.”
The three could hear Marge quietly laughing to herself at the sight of them.
Death grumbled, “LE, could you tell that obnoxious computer to shut the hell up?”
LE chuckled; she liked these two, a breath of fresh air from the grumbling Doctor. “Gladly… Marge, could you do us all a favor and shut the hell up?”
Marge let out an offended grunt but she stopped laughing.
The door opened on a massive gymnasium, it was truly vast, easily five hundred meters from end to end, the perfect place to stretch one’s legs. In the center it seemed a bizarre scuffle had broken out, two larger figures were trying, and failing, to wrangle what appeared to be a child wielding an oversized sword.
Pestilence perked up slightly.“Oh dear, the problem child came for a visit, how convenient.”
Death and Pestilence eagerly extricated themselves from the elevator and began hurrying over to the altercation, LE followed at a slower pace watching the drama unfold. Death joined the small group, distracting Kid and the others momentarily, while Pestilence slipped behind and put Kid into a Full Nelson. The momentum of the altercation screeched to a halt as Kid writhed but couldn’t break free of Pestilence’ formidable grip. As LE drew closer the attention of the new three became fixated on her, she began to feel their minds probing hers but they were quickly quashed by Death and Pestilence.
Death walked over and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Alright, surprise them.”She could hear the smile in his voice.
“Hello!” LE raised her arm in greeting. “I’m LE and you’re very confused right now”
She was struck by a barrage of confused feelings from the three while she only felt laughter from Pestilence and Death.
“Yeah I get that, here take my hand and we’ll be able to communicate in a less lopsided way.” LE held out her hand to War who took it eagerly, and placed her hand on Famine’s shoulder she began to hear their thoughts in hers. She began to explain who she was and the communications barrier. Despite their initial outbursts earlier the two were very quiet and formal; LE got a very strange feeling of hollowness from Famine especially, as if their personality was nothing but an unfeeling void, they rather scared her.
Kid decided to complicate things. While still in Pestilence’ Full Nelson she whipped her legs up and thrust them back down to smash into her captor’s knees. The two went airborne and as soon as Kid’s feet made contact with the ground she flung Pestilence off of her with a strong whip from her core. The unfortunate Pestilence flew at least fifty meters across the gym like a ragdoll; one could almost hear her whistling through the air, she landed heavily and rolled to a stop. Kid cut a snarky little pose putting both arms on her waist and thrusting her head in Pestilence’ direction, if she had a tongue it would no doubt be blowing raspberries. Kid sharply turned towards LE and ran at her, full speed, before LE could even fall into a defensive pose Kid launched on her and gripped her in a… bear hug? This was unexpected.
Kid began crawling up LE’s waist before fastening herself around her shoulders and neck. In LE’s mind she could hear Kid’s voice; it definitely fit with the image.“She’s so cute! Can we keep her?”
“Ah, I see you’ve made the acquaintance of the rest of my Horsemen.” Schultz had snuck up on them in the confusion. “And who’s that clinging to you like a limpet?” His tone became much more childlike. “Why I think that’s Kid, what a nice surprise, it’s an honor to be in the presence of such a celebrity, though I’d ask that next time you don’t throw my bodyguards around quite so much, they have a reputation to maintain.” He gave her a little wink, Kid responded by blowing metaphorical raspberries in his direction. “Erm, Pestilence… you OK over there?!” he called over to the still prostrate Indra; she gave a thumbs up as an answer.
LE turned around to face Schultz. “I think she’ll be sitting this one out Mr. Schultz.” Kid stood shakily on LE’s broad shoulders and leapt gracefully, doing a quick flip before landing.
Schultz placed a thoughtful hand on his chin and tapped his cheek a few times. “I think so too, humph, well it’s a good thing Kid’s here to take her place.”
“It was Kid who did that to her in the first place,” she said flatly.
Schultz waved his hand dismissively. “Semantics… Alright you four I would like for you to do some sparring with LE here, she’s new so go easy on her. Let’s do a little bit of solo work to gauge your abilities. Death, how about you start things off?”
Death nodded his head and moved forward, the other Indra and Schultz retreated to a safe distance.
He placed a hand on her shoulder; his voice was sympathetic but determined. “I won’t be taking things ‘easy’ on you kiddo; these lessons have to be long and difficult for you to reach your full potential. Sorry in advance if I hurt you.”
LE nodded solemnly. “And I you.”
The two of them took their preferred defensive poses and began circling, each looking for an opening to exploit. LE intentionally relaxed one of her arms, letting it fall closer to her midsection, Death lunged and LE blocked. His fist made contact with her elbow and a resounding crack reverberated throughout the gym. If Death was injured he didn’t let it show, he skipped back and began circling again.
LE could vaguely hear Schultz yell something to the effect of, “forget tactics! Punch him!” She could barely hear anything over her concentration on her opponent.
LE rushed forward and threw a lazy haymaker which Death easily ducked under. Damn, to slow and too high!
As LE’s punch sailed over his head Death grabbed a hold of her hand, freezing it in place so he could land a series of body blows with his right arm. His punches bounced off, barely denting the thick skin on LE’s stomach. He couldn’t hold onto her arm for much longer and her other arm was still free; she was almost lifting him off the ground, he felt her hand wrap around his shoulder, he could feel her grim determination, she was taking this very seriously. He felt a small pang of realization, her legs; he renewed his assault, throwing worries for her safety out the window as he realized he was the one at risk, he let go of her hand and pulled back, trying to retreat.
LE had the same realization at the same time. Feeling his grip begin to loosen she shook her arm free and clenched his wrist in her massive fist, she tightened her grip on his shoulder. LE swung her leg up between the two and, finally using the air jets, thrust it forward; it caught him right where his sternum would be. She immediately regretted her decision. She could feel his body twist and deform as her foot plunged deeper, a massive crack could be heard as his fiber optic cabling began to fray and snap. She quickly let go and let the force of the kick carry him away.
A small shockwave could be felt by the spectators, Death was ripped away with incredible force; he flew in a lazy arc until hitting the floor halfway across the gym in a tangle of limbs. One kick was all it took to take Death down. Everybody, including Pestilence who had regained her senses, rushed to where he lay. An enormous indent had caved the front of his body in like an aluminum can in the hands of an angry toddler. He struggled weakly but was still very much alive.
“Well, I think I blew that one,”Death said weakly, raising his head to look at LE as she placed her hand on his shoulder. “That’s what cockiness gets you,”he chuckled. He could sense LE’s concern.“Don’t worry I’ll be fine, though I think I’ll be laid out for a little while my cabling tries to find its way back into its proper place, could you tell that to Schultz?”
Ellie nodded her head and turned to a wide eyed Schultz. “Sure, um, Mr. Schultz he says he’ll be fine but he’s gonna need a while to recover.”
Schultz was still staring in awe at the obscene damage a single kick had wrought on Death but he quickly snapped out of it. “Oh, good, excellent, I was getting a bit worried, it seems the matchup wasn’t as unfair as I thought.” His voice was distracted.
LE let out a small sigh of relief and sat on the ground next to Death. “I’m glad I only used 50% power, if I’d gone full on he’d probably have been vaporized.”
Five heads turned sharply at her.
“Fifty percent?” Laverne’s eyes went wider, his façade finally crumbled he began laughing at how ridiculous she was.
LE couldn’t hear the other Indra, but judging from the feelings they were giving off it was safe to assume they felt the same way as Schultz.
LE responded rather sheepishly. “Uh, yeah, with the air jets I can vastly increase my body’s strength, on top of using them for maneuvering. That was a regular kick enhanced by the jets on my leg.” LE traced the small holes on her leg; cloudy vapor was still rising from them. “I suppose that’s why I’m so stocky; my body has to be strong enough to cope with the force of the jets.”
Schultz fell back into thought. “Be that as it may, you still knocked out, and nearly destroyed, Death with a single kick. We need to get a stronger sparring partner for you, perhaps Wall or Wulf.” He looked over at the Indra. “I wonder, can any of you make long range communications with your fellow Indra, I’d really hate to have to track them down.”
The four standing Indra nodded in unison.
Death turned to LE.“What he doesn’t know is that we’ve already put out the Call; they’re all coming, perhaps not to fight but most definitely to talk.”
Chapter 5: Discovery
Five hundred miles away from the hustle and bustle of Alcadon, across the Tabi Wetlands, and deep in the Olosos Grasslands, lay a giant muddy hole in the ground. This was not your standard muddy hole in the ground though; this one was particularly special as few muddy holes in the ground were as hated as this one was. A small group of men and women toiled away, deepening it; each of them silently cursing their superiors for getting them shoveled away in that barren hole. This was the Kidjii Dig, and this was the worst punishment imaginable for these people.
The name was apt, unfortunately so, in the ancient language of the Shiimish it meant ‘Hell’ or ‘The Cursed Place’, unfortunately for those working there the name was all too accurate. The whole operation seemed specially formulated to be entirely unbearable by any sane human. Being so close to both the Desert of Shiim and the Jungles of Khumret the days were hot, the nights were cold, sand was always to be found in unfortunate places and rain was as common as the dirt they were digging. In another predictable twist of bad luck the Kidjii Dig wasn’t a very high priority to the Department of Engineering and Archaeology, leading to a small staff and outdated or outright broken equipment. For these archaeologists and engineers there was no place on Earth they’d want to be less.
The dig these beleaguered scientists were working in was a large rectangular hole around fifty feet deep, with scaffolding criss-crossing over the depths to provide platforms for walking and to house lighting fixtures. A large vertical conveyer hauled debris up to the surface for analysis and disposal. The full crew was in the hole, chipping away at jagged shards of rapidly approaching bedrock. Despite their advanced technology the crew found themselves reverting to traditional means of excavation, pickaxes and wheelbarrows were the norm. The remote operated jacks and hydraulic excavators broke down or exploded mere days into the dig, leaving the group dangerously behind schedule.
It was shaping up to be another work-filled day, the worst kind. The morning sun still lay low in the sky, casting its warm light across the world; unfortunately it would still be several hours until it was high enough to cast any light upon the wretches in the pit. Suddenly something echoed down into the hole that made them all look up in confusion, a strange mechanical grinding noise. Immediately there were cries of alarm from the engineering team as they began clambering up the scaffolding to get topside. A massive snap could be heard and the vertical conveyer fell limply into the hole, completely severed from the drive shaft, spraying everyone with a tidal wave of mud.
Everyone stared dumbly at the conveyer, quietly one of the geologists began to laugh manically, groans and angry shouts began being hurled toward the unfeeling piece of machinery. Everyone began to climb up the scaffolding to see what the prognosis was.
The lead engineer just looked exasperated. “It was an old belt, it got snarled up in the drive shaft which wound up stretching it and snapping it.” He gave the thing a kick. “This garbage should be in a museum, not in the field.” He let out a groan. “I can get it back up in a day, until then you’re not getting anything out of that hole and I’d recommend against trying anything creative.”
He threw open the access panel and a stream of oily black liquid began draining, covering his boots. “Gah! Damn it all!” He smashed his open palm against the metal body of the machine, he was only rewarded with more oil, swears and curses streamed from his mouth. “Make it a day-and-a-half, minimum!” He walked off to get his tools, boots making disgusting suction noises with every step.
The group dispersed trying to find busywork to distract themselves with, or they just went to their tents and went back to sleep.
That night morale was the lowest it had ever been. Rock bottom had a basement and they were sleeping on its floor. The whole day was scrapped while the engineers fixed the decade’s old equipment. Twelve men and women reclined in uncomfortable plastic chairs, eating nearly expired rehydrated rations, muttering to each other about what they’d rather be doing. The mood was getting mutinous, and the dig supervisor Dr. Lawrence Tryel knew that, and they knew he knew that.
“What are we even doing here?” One of the archaeology team, Dahn, mumbled louder than the rest. “We’ve been here three months digging a massive hole for what? Why are we digging here? What evidence is there to support that there are any artifacts or items of scientific or technological significance here in the first place?” She was now addressing Tryel directly. “Why, are, we, here? Please enlighten us Doctor”
Tryel stuttered for a moment, paused, let out a defeated sigh and said, “We are here based on nothing but vague rumor and incomplete data taken from mostly disintegrated documents and damaged computer cores.” His tone turned impudent. “Normally this sort of thing would be completely ignored by anyone with an iota of sense but the higher ups still sent us out here anyway.” He looked around the room. “None of you volunteered, you were all assigned, right?”
There was nodding and grumbling from everyone there.
His voice had a cloying edge to it. “Well I was assigned too, I want to be out of here as much as you do but the department heads gave me a job and I’m going to carry it out, find or no find. Honestly I’d be surprised if I still have a career by the end of this.” He put a firm edge to his voice. “Now listen people, we can make this easier on ourselves if we just understand that not a single one of us wants to be here, not even me. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try to enjoy ourselves.” He stuttered for a moment, trying to find the right words. “Think of this as some sort of demented camping trip, you don’t have to deal with your supervisors, who I’m guessing are the reasons for you all being here, and you don’t have to deal with the general bullshittery of Alcadon.” His eyes brightened as he was struck with an excellent idea, a smile stretched wide across his face. “And don’t worry, your reports are all going to be stellar, as soon as we get out of this I’m going to make sure that each and every one of you gets the highest marks possible for just putting up with this bullshit. Whaddaya say folks? A few more weeks of this and you’ll get the greatest reports of your careers, hands down.” He slammed the table with his hand for emphasis.
The prospect of an overwhelmingly positive personnel report helped to lift the spirits of the ragged crew, a good enough report could get them a transfer away from their overbearing supervisors. They went to sleep that night a bit happier than usual, and Doctor Tryel went to sleep for the first time in days without wondering if he was going to wake up with a knife in his back.
Morale was up, the conveyer had been repaired, and the dig was moving along at an unusually fast pace. A shipment of fresh rations helped to lighten the mood somewhat too, anything was better than the dehydrated protein bricks and stale electrolyte supplements they’d been living off of. For the first time in months morale was higher than rock bottom.
Good news from up top, there’d been several artifacts that had churned up with the stone and dirt, lumps of decomposing plastic, signs of habitation. The archaeology team eagerly scuttled up the scaffolding to inspect the plastic, the prospects were good, they were higher grade than consumer goods from the time. The dig began to speed up, finally they were getting somewhere. The digging sped up. One of the crew let out a whoop of excitement and dropped on all fours and began scrabbling in the loosening dirt, they pulled a dome-shaped object from the ground. After a quick cleaning the object revealed itself to be a fairly intact military helmet. Rough dating placed the helmet back to the 45th century, it was one used by the ancient Americans in one of their interminable wars with the rest of the world. This caused quite a stir among the scientists, the 45th century was the time of the Indra, and perhaps some answers were to be found amongst the debris.
A deep echoing clang rung through the hole, drowning out even the grumble of the conveyer.
One of the picks had hit something, something large and metallic, right on the edge of the dig. A frenzy of activity began, everyone was in that hole, digging, chipping away at the fractured bedrock. The concerns of the engineering team were ignored as the conveyer was put into overdrive; the debris pile had to be cleared more in that one day than it had been in a month. Excitement swelled as they grew closer and closer until it emerged like a prehistoric monolith. It was a massive metal door; its outside covered in a russet coating of rust, wide enough for one of their All Terrain Transport Vehicles to comfortably pass through. It was an ancient underground bunker, and judging by the few artifacts that had been uncovered, it was military. Hurriedly, a ramp was scored out of the ground and the group excitedly gathered around the find.
“Get the acetylene torch down here right away!” Tryel called to the solitary crew member at the top of the excavation, he was almost foaming at the mouth he was so anxious to get inside. There hadn’t been a bunker discovery since the Sampras Dig nearly five years ago, just wait until those dusty fools at the department heard about this!
The cutting torch was lowered quickly and two men set to work cutting the hinges and the bolts, blinding arcs of light chiseled away at the stout doors. The wait was agonizing but after an hour of cutting the door was freed of its constraints, with the help of a rope and some elbow grease the door fell forward, landing heavily on the ground. Inside nothing could be seen but darkness, grabbing his flashlight Doctor Tryel marched inside followed by the archaeology team wielding a variety of scanning and recording equipment.
It was pristine. By the looks of things the door had kept the entire structure completely airtight preserving everything inside. Papers that would normally have long turned to dust were as untouched by time as if they’d just been printed. Moving as if in slow motion, careful not to shift the musty air lest these precious items disintegrate before their eyes, the team set to work photographing and scanning everything. With the photographs and scans the team would be able to render out interactive model of the find using newly rediscovered virtual reality technology. Room by room they went, photographing and scanning, not a single detail was missed, artifacts not seen intact in years were found in abundance. Pocket computers, photographs, holographic generators, fast read data tapes, and storage drives looked as good as the day they left the factory. Carefully these artifacts were gathered in large, shock absorbing, crates and lugged back to the surface for cataloging and transport. In less than a day, the dig went from dangerously behind schedule to exempt from any schedule, and the joyous mood reflected that.
In what seemed like a flash, the day was gone, the sun had long sunk beneath the horizon and only pale moonlight illuminated the seemingly abandoned dig site. No one had bothered to come back up; they would sleep when they were done.
Tryel walked down the quiet corridors, his shoes making muffled clicks as they hit the tiled flooring. The more he saw of it, the more unusual the find became. It wasn’t laid out like a standard research bunker, if anything it resembled the ruined foundations usually found above them. Everything was compact and condensed, unlike the weaving spider’s webs the American military favored, and the build materials were totally out of keeping with standard military construction. Most bunkers would have metal flooring and concrete walls while this place had tile and drywall. Everything was off… He looked into one of the already surveyed rooms, chairs were tipped over, mobile computers were left sitting on the tables, mugs of coffee, long evaporated and whisked into the dehumidifier system in an age long past, sat undisturbed. They didn’t bother to clean up after themselves, as if this place had been left in a hurry. Tryel resumed, making his way to the center of the building, if what they found at the Khournas dig held true then he would find what he was looking for there.
Turning the final corner Tryel approached a door, heavier than the rest, left slightly ajar by the survey team, he slid inside the large room. Carefully sidling between monolithic storage banks and servers Tryel approached the computer control Hub. His suspicions had been confirmed, this was the building meant to be perched atop the bunker beneath, what could have lead to an entire building being buried? Locating the master control switch, Tryel crossed his fingers and switched it on; a low humming could be heard from inside the machine’s housing. Lights throughout the bunker flickered and came on, one by one, banks of monitors lit, at first dimly but quickly growing brighter. Kudos to the Americans for building something that lasts. Letters and numbers filled the screens until just one word was left on the screens.
Tryel eagerly walked over to the nearest keyboard and pulled out a small notebook, looking down at his notes he shakily typed in: USFTW1776. He was sweating bullets despite the cold.
Tryel stepped back and let out a disbelieving laugh, he’d always thought the password was a joke but it seems those particular rumors were indeed true, he’d have to thank Doctor Brummel when he got back, after gloating to him of course. Icons filled the screen, classified projects, blueprints to weapons, and all sorts of ancient knowledge was just waiting to be rediscovered, but there was one that drew Tryel’s eye.
This had to be it, this was the missing piece to the puzzle that was the Indra, finally their secrets would be revealed. He moved the cursor to the icon and clicked.
In the deepest corner of the complex the final rooms were being recorded, all that was left was one more behind a particularly hefty door. One of the engineering team struggled with the ancient docking latch.
“Hey, Roth! Could you give me a hand?” Jayce, called in a loud whisper to the other. “This one is a bit more difficult than the others!”
The other technician, Roth, came over and assisted Jayce with pulling the door open. The squealing of rusty hinges shattered the silence that had rested on the team. Rust would indicate the presence of moisture; it seems this room had been breached at some point in the past. The rest of the group, save Tryel who was occupied indulging in the secrets of the Indra, converged on the unusual door. Though it was only open a crack a foul odor began to permeate the room and the adjacent ones before long, several of the team gagged as the smell made their stomachs turn. Jayce and Roth pulled the door open the rest of the way, the entire team crowding behind them.
Flashlights pierced the darkness. The room was not in keeping with the rest of the find, the walls were red with rust and the floor was covered in nearly a foot of some sort of thick black tarlike substance. Slowly the viscous fluid began flowing out of the now open door, driving some of the team away for the sake of their stomachs. In the far wall was what was left of a doorway but splintered steel and large boulders had burst from it like a frozen explosion, the former entrance to the bunker beneath. Something was wrong, something was horribly wrong. One of the beams focused on something floating on the top of the ooze, it was stark white standing out against the black. The shifting of the ooze moved the object, it rolled slightly revealing the hollow sockets of a human skull. There were cries of disgust from the team, they quickly fled from the cursed room, this one didn’t warrant recording.
As the team disbanded for the sakes of either their stomachs or their sanity only one was left standing silhouetted in the open doorway, Jayce. With a seeming disregard for his own safety, sense of smell, and footwear, he waded into the room, there was something else hidden beneath the sludge, he could just see the outline of it poking through the surface of the rapidly lowering slime. As he drew nearer to the object he could see it was a vaguely humanlike figure, perhaps it was a body, preserved in this sludge. He could feel other smaller objects hidden beneath the sludge crunch under his feet, he bent down and thrust his hand into the slime, wrapping his hand around one of the objects he pulled it to the surface, it was a bone. Jayce was now very much regretting his decision to enter this chamber from hell but he was too far in to turn back now. Crouching down he examined the strange figure, upon closer inspection he realized it couldn’t be human. The proportions were all wrong, its waist was far too thin and it’s legs too long. The most startling thing Jayce observed was a complete lack of hands or feet, this thing’s strangely spiraled arms and legs simply ended in long spikes.
“What the hell are you?” Jayce gave the thing a small prod.
With stunning speed the thing reared up and in one smooth motion impaled Jayce through both eyes and tore outwards shredding his skull and its contents into pulp. Jayce’s decapitated body slumped into the thick ooze with a resounding slap. The creature planted its feet into the floor, and pulled itself up, it stood on all fours, suspending its torso like a spider. Shaking thick tendrils of slime from its pale body, the creature exited the room that was meant to be its eternal tomb, the floor cracked beneath its spikes.
Back in the central control center Tryel sat engrossed and horrified by what he was reading, could mankind have been capable of such depravity, even then? He quickly fumbled in his pocket, pulling out a data tape cartridge, he needed to copy this and get it back to Alcadon. He inserted the tape, a sharp scream echoed through the building, the scream quickly faded to a gurgle and then silence, with a clunk the tape popped out of the machine, data copied. More screams, noise surrounded him, each ending as sharply as they started, a rhythmic thumping could be heard pulsing through the complex. Mind numb in animalistic terror, he fled, bumping into the servers and tripping over exposed wires he quickly squeezed through the door. He ran as fast as his portly frame could carry him towards the exit, not bothering with moving carefully.
As he rounded a corner Tryel bumped into Roth, or what was left of him, he was nearly cut in two; only thin ribbons of flesh held his body together, his arms had been cruelly twisted around one of the pipes running along the ceiling holding him aloft to be ripped to shreds. Stomach turning in fear and disgust, Tryel bolted past the eviscerated body, the screams had stopped, all he could hear was his heart pounding in his ears and that same rhythmic thumping reverberating through the empty halls.
Tryel knew what he was going to do, he was going to get to the surface, get in an ATTV and get back to Alcadon as fast as the thing could take him, he was going to come back with an entire battalion and reduce this cursed building to scrap metal. He rounded a corner, it was a dead end, one of the team also found that out the hard way as they seemed to have been exploded. The walls, floor, and ceiling was painted red in their blood, viscera dangled from the ceiling, all that was left of them was a pair of legs attached to a pulverized waist.
The lights flickered and went out, the slight humming of the generator was replaced with silence as the ancient batteries powered on, the compound was coated the deep red of emergency lighting. Tryel fumbled in his waistband to retrieve his flashlight, struggling to remember how to get out of this deadly maze. The rhythmic thumping had ceased, a shrill mechanical scream pierced the air. Beneath the scream Tryel could hear another, more human, scream, sheer terror and then silence once more. The rhythmic thumping resumed, moving farther and farther away until it could be heard no more. Tryel shook himself from his freezing fear and resumed, taking small quiet steps, he must not be heard. Whatever it was that was killing his team could be anywhere, he must not be heard.
After what seemed like ages of wandering through the murky red maze, discovering more bodies of his teammates in states of brutal evisceration, he saw it, the Exit! The harsh industrial lights pierced through the murky red abyss, Tryel sped up but kept his steps silent, he must not be heard. As he crossed the threshold he saw what happened to the members of the team that had made it out of the complex, limbs and torsos were scattered about in small piles, while a few had been suspended from the scaffolding with their own innards used as rope. Tryel covered his mouth, quickly and quietly he began climbing the scaffolding; fifty feet had never seemed so high, he could see the dark sky turning purple with the oncoming dawn, how quickly time seemed to move underground.
As he hauled himself up the final rung and onto the wet grassy earth he saw it, the creature. It scuttled about like some demented spider, trailing blood and viscera from its massive spiked limbs. It was in the process of shredding the dig site, tents, and equipment; neither fabric nor metal stood a chance against this creature’s pure animal rage. Tryel let out a small gasp at seeing this beast, upon hearing him the creature’s head swiveled to face him; vicious cracking could be heard from its neck. Its face, oh it had a face. As if chiseled from marble, a smooth impassive human face was bared outwards; its eyes and lips were jet black, contrasting with the sickly paleness of its fetid quivering flesh, a mask covering the evil being beneath. The two of them stared at each other, neither moving, each studying the other, hunter and prey. Tryel slowly began shifting towards the ATTV’s parked several yards away, all he had to do was make it, the creature followed slowly moving silkily, inversely copying his every movement. It was toying with him.
Tryel suddenly remembered what he’d read down in the complex, he knew this creature, and it filled him with terror. “Medusa…” he muttered under his breath.
A high pitched keening whine tore from the closed mouth of the creature. Medusa the Insane, the first Indra, the one never meant to see the light of day. Fast as lightning, Medusa drew up upon the Doctor, who was too stunned to move, and struck.
Chapter 6: Calamity
The dawn broke over another bitter cold night that had wrapped the vast Nag’Osh Foothills in its frost-bound embrace. The wind swept silently over the gently waving grass, the emergent beams of sunlight gently melted the hard frost of the night into a gossamer thin sheen of dew. Everything was quiet, a deafening silence hung over the plains as the world awoke… Though, those small creatures burrowing beneath the earth were privy to something those above were not, they could feel something, a deep rumbling, quickly drawing nearer.
The Tribe of Tchi’il Br’kan, the greatest Tcha’Gough leader to have ever run the northern plains, was on the hunt. A horde of grey skinned savages streamed across the grassy landscape searching for their quarry, the natural beauty which surrounded them was ignored. Hunger and fierce savage will drove the Tcha’Gough forward against starvation. A great herd of plains deer had been eluding them for several days, their stomachs were empty, and an empty stomach meant death was closing in. The survival of the entire tribe depended on this hunt, without fresh meat they would surely starve. The old and infirm were already long dead, stripped for their flesh by the uncaring tribe, for the Tcha’Gough meat was meat, they did not care where it came from.
Onward they ran, a streaming, fluid, mass of sweating, filthy bodies flew across the countryside. A savage howl rose from the frontrunners, fresh tracks had been found, less than an hour old! The pace quickened, faster and faster they ran. Those who had been struggling to keep up fell behind and were trampled by the uncaring strides of those behind them, they would be stripped later. Faster… Faster! Only the raw fuel of desperation propelled them forward, more fell, and more were trampled, left behind as red stains on the once pristine landscape.
The tracks led into a natural canyon, one entrance one exit, the stupid beasts had cornered themselves! The front runners began to whoop and holler with the joy of the hunt, their hunger forgotten; now they only thirsted for blood!
Utter madness and confusion followed as the whole tribe tried to jam itself into the narrow canyon; several were crushed along the sides as too many bodies crammed into such a small space, they were quickly set upon and devoured by those closest to them. A call rang out, louder than the rest, quieting the tribe.
“Stop!” The voice called out, calming the manic Tcha’Gough.
Their leader Tchi’il Br’kan had spoken, the horde stopped and turned to face him, eyes gleaming expectantly.
He was unusual, especially for a Tcha’Gough, his face was not tattooed, his skin not covered in the pale paintings and traditional scarring. His wiry hair was pulled back into a rudimentary braid revealing an almost handsome face. His brow ridge was smaller than his counterparts, his features were almost kind. Despite being no stronger than any of his kind he was smarter, his cleverness had won him his tribe, and it would surely win him the day.
He gestured to the canyon. “They, in there!” His growling voice reverberated through the canyon and back over the tribe giving him a supernatural echo. “We out here!” He gestured to the masses of his tribespeople. “No escape! Only us!” he raised his arms up in a pseudo shrug a worry-free expression on his face. “We send few in there and scare prey to us, and we FEAST!” A cheer rose from the mass of grey skinned savages. “You group!” He pointed at a handful of the frontrunners that were veritably foaming at the mouth. “Go! Li’Djein protects you!”
The runners thundered into the canyon whooping and calling, taunting their prey. As they plowed deeper the walls grew steeper and steeper until they became sheer, a freezing shade fell on them. Undeterred by the chill they ran onwards, burning away the very muscle they were using to catch their quarry. They rounded the final corner, feet crunching in the sparse frost covered vegetation, the walls had curved inward creating a shallow earthen cave. The pitiful amount of light creeping in from the rapidly rising sun revealed a total lack of prey, no deer, not a living thing in sight. It was totally still with only small droplets of water slapping on the ground from the thawing earth above to show any form of movement. The superstitious Tcha’Gough crept into the cave, confused at the apparent vanishing of an entire herd of deer; they scurried about the large space and found no trace of anything, not a wisp of shaggy fur, not a hoof print. There were never any deer… The runners could feel their empty stomachs drop, the painful burning in their muscles grew stronger as they atrophied further.
Could this be a trick by some lesser imp? Tricking the whole tribe into following tracks that weren’t there? Why would their god Li’Djien allow such a thing? The runners did not know how the deer seemingly vanished, but feared the wrath of their chief regardless, they turned to exit but found their way blocked. A glowing white figure, skeletally thin, had cornered them, weapons drawn. It was an Indra… A wailing screech tore from the cornered Tcha’Gough’s throats, Scorn! The Pale Death! He had come to kill them just as he’d killed countless before them! Scorn kicked forward the two severed deer feet he had used to make the false tracks, they came to a stop in front of the shocked Tcha’Gough.
Scorn was known to the Tcha’Gough, he’d killed countless numbers of them since long before the runners were born. Tales told to them by the old ones in Djro’Kr said The Pale Death was responsible for the capture of their god, Li’Djein. No Tcha’Gough had ever fought it and survived, few Tcha’Gough had even seen it and survived, only Wulf, the Hunter, could possibly save them. Scorn advanced slowly, seemingly taking relish in his prey’s fright. Step by step he drew closer. His prey retreated further into the cave until they were pressed against the freezing back wall, hyperventilating and crying they got to their knees and prayed to their god Li’Djein to spare them. Scorn slowly pulled an arrow from his quiver, he knocked it and…
He stopped, standing rigid, he froze entirely. It was a miracle! Li’Djein had answered their prayers. The cornered Tcha’Gough, seeing an opportunity, dashed around Scorn and ran at a full sprint to the exit; they’d gladly take their chief’s punishment over Scorn’s. After navigating the twists and turns, they rocketed out of the canyon entrance and threw themselves at their chief’s feet, cowering and wailing.
“The Pale Death! The Pale Death! Li’Djein spared us!” They cowered and shook on the ground.
Tchi’il Br’kan was taken aback, these were his best runners and were not given to mistruths, if Scorn was in that canyon then it was best not to push their luck. He did not even bother to deliberate; no prey was worth what Scorn would do to his people. He announced, “We go! Find new prey elsewhere!” There were many grumbles and groans from the tribe, but all were well enough aware of the alternative.
“We go, no—,“ Tchi’il Br’kan never got to finish his statement as a glowing white shaft sprouted from between his eyes like a sick magic trick.
As the great chief slumped to the ground, the shaft was pulled free by some unseen force, it passed through several more Tcha’Gough as it returned to the hand of its owner. Scorn had emerged from the canyon. He stood still, they stood still eyes wide with sheer abject terror, the edges of the group began to fray as the tribe began to disperse. Scorn stood a while more, as if considering his next actions, he shrugged and rushed forward. He laid into the cowering Tcha’Gough, wreaking havoc in their ranks, wielding his short dagger and a loose arrow he killed no less than ten in his first assault. The kills were quick, clean, and calculated, no movement was wasted and no body was unnecessarily mutilated.
What Scorn neglected to see was a large figure skidding down the shallow walls of the canyon and sprinting up behind him. Wulf silently reared up, poising his massive bulk, bearing his massive cudgel down on the back of his nemesis’ head, a massive dent was left there as Scorn crumpled to the ground. A ragged cheer rose from the Tcha’Gough, Wulf the Hunter had saved them! Bending down, Wulf roughly grabbed Scorn and slung him over his massive shoulder like a ragdoll. He raised his hand in farewell, then touched his open hand to his chest in the traditional symbol of apology and sprinted due south.
After many miles of running Wulf could feel Scorn begin to stir, it didn’t take long for him to begin struggling. Wulf tightened his grip, his massive sandy colored hand nearly covering the width of Scorn’s back; he was not allowing Scorn any chance to escape.
They put out the Call Scorn, and you ignored it… again! His voice was filled not with anger, but with disappointment. This was not the first time Scorn had ignored the Call.
Scorn kept struggling, ignoring the words of his old friend.
Wulf pulled Scorn from over his shoulder and held him at arm’s length. What is wrong with you?
Scorn finally spoke, beating ineffectually on Wulf’s hands. That is none of your concern Wulf, my business is my own.
Wulf violently jostled Scorn who flailed around limply. You can’t keep killing people! Tchi’il was the Tcha’Gough’s best chance at progress and you just up and murdered him. Now that whole tribe is going to starve and die because of your cruelty. And no, don’t say this isn’t my concern, this time you crossed the line, you’re in trouble. After we figure out what’s going on down south, we’re going to have a nice long chat, whether you like it or not.
Scorn’s struggles became stronger. I don’t need to explain myself!
Wulf crushed Scorn into his chest in a constricting hug. What happened to you Scorn? What happened to that brilliant scientist? What happened to my friend? As you are now you’re no better than a feral dog with a large vocabulary. If it were physically possible for Wulf to shed tears he would have done so.
Why must you interfere with my work? Scorn whispered.
Wulf pulled Scorn away and threw him into the ground, enraged. Work!? It’s slaughter! These people are in the flowering days of youth, a whole new species of intelligent life and you seem hell bent on snuffing them out. He put a restraining foot on Scorn’s chest as he tried to stand up.
I refuse to justify myself! Scorn yelled as he squirmed in the soft dirt.
Wulf sighed in defeat. Very well, if you refuse to see reason then I will carry you to Alcadon, if you attempt to escape then I will bludgeon you again. He roughly grabbed Scorn once more and threw them over his shoulder.
Scorn began rocking his body, throwing his weight around, trying to knock Wulf off balance.
Wulf growled, Scorn, give it a rest.
He began trying to dig his sharp fingertips into Wulf’s back but they became snarled in his thick animal skin cape. I cannot! I’m needed here!
Wulf heaved a massive sigh and pulled Scorn from over his shoulder. I’m sorry old friend. Wulf hefted his club and laid a massive blow to the top of Scorn’s head.
Scorn went limp.
Wulf pulled off his cape and firmly wrapped Scorn in it like a rudimentary straitjacket and set off once more at a brisk jog toward the city of Alcadon.
Hundreds of miles away, at the same time as the events in the canyon, a man braced himself for a violent death at the hands of a monster. Eyes squeezed shut, Tryel mentally prepared for his inevitable death and… nothing, his demise at the claws of a blood crazed Indra seemed to be delayed. He cracked one eye open and immediately recoiled in horror, nearly tumbling back into the pit. Not two inches from his face was the pale impassive mask of Medusa, and a fraction of an inch from his left temple was its massive claw poised to add him to the body count. Medusa was completely still, frozen mid-stab as if some unseen force had restrained every muscle in its body.
Tryel began gibbering; he dropped to his knees and quickly scrambled away towards one of the parked ATTV’s. Tryel did not want to look that particular gift horse in the mouth, or for that matter continue staring at Medusa’s. Thank goodness they hadn’t been shredded yet. He rushed inside the large vehicle, booted up the nav computer, and set course back to Alcadon, maximum speed.
ATTV’s were Alcadon’s exploration workhorses, coming in a wide variety of sizes these self-driving machines were more than capable of handling just about every type of terrain mother nature could throw at them, bar the bottom of the ocean and a sheer cliff. The model of ATTV Tryel was currently, frantically, programming, was a “C” model made for smaller loads and personnel transport. Fortunately for Tryel this ATTV-C was also one of the few things the higher-ups couldn’t cheap out on.
“Exceeding recommended speeds may increase risk of death or injury, do you wish to override the defaults?” a tinny computerized voice spoke from somewhere inside the console.
Sweat dripped from his forehead, he cast a quick glance over his shoulder and Medusa was still frozen. “Yes, you stupid machine!” He hamfistedly mashed at the buttons on the touchscreen display. “Just go!”
The vehicle was off in a flash, wheels spinning and engines revving, Tryel was thrown backwards into the sizable storage bay. He didn’t bother to get up; he just laid there digesting everything he’d seen. The horrors he’d witnessed were too many to fathom, he’d seen human bodies twisted like dough in the hands of a baker, he’d seen things not humanly possible and yet there they were. He did what anyone would do in such a situation, he began to cry, huge ugly sobs heaved from his chest and tore from his mouth, hollow wails of agony bounced off the bare walls of the vehicle.
Tryel took a massive shuddering breath before screaming, “I’m an anthropologist! I’m supposed to be sitting in a library reading books about the past; I should be crammed in a hide somewhere watching primitives hit each other over the heads with rocks. I’m not qualified for this! I don’t want this! I don’t want this… I don… whan…” The true gravity of what he’d witnessed that day finally sunk in, he fainted, falling into a light fitful slumber.
Back at the dig site Medusa jolted back into motion, its spike cutting through the now vacant air. It had received the Call, so they were still alive. Medusa shuddered as thoughts and memories clawed their way to the surface of its mind. It saw images of its fellow Indra flash through its subconscious, a cold, hollow anger spread through its chest. Which one was it? The images continued flashing, until it found her, tucked away deep in its mind, almost entirely repressed.
It tried to speak… “V-v-valkyrie…” Medusa whispered, it hissed, as if simply saying her name brought pain. “Valkyrie!” Medusa howled.
Valkyrie. Medusa’s mind seethed with hatred. Valkyrie got Medusa locked in that room; Valkyrie was responsible for Medusa spending those endless, boring, millennia locked deep beneath the earth. Valkyrie, will, die. The Call pulled Medusa to the north-west, the same direction the little man was going. There was no reason to delay. Medusa would find the little man first, it didn’t like to start killing someone and not be allowed to end it, and then they would kill their treacherous sister.
Medusa scuttled away across the grasslands, following the rapidly shrinking ATTV.
The jerk of the ATTV stopping jolted Tryel into a semblance of wakefulness, his fitful slumber had been plagued with nightmares. He lay on the floor for a while, dozing, he didn’t know how much time had passed, all he knew was that he didn’t want to get up. The ATTV jostled again, the sounds of several automatic standby procedures clanged through the cargo bay; he was suddenly alert, and very much aware of where he was. Hauling himself up into a sitting position he stopped for a moment to let blood drain to the rest of his body, a grey haze pulled at the edges of his vision for several seconds before clearing. After regaining his senses he put himself to the task of figuring out where he was.
Climbing into the cab of the ATTV he checked the navigation computer. Damn his fat fingers, in his haste to get moving he’d changed the vehicle’s destination to the small town of Khim. He sighed resignedly, well at least it was on the road to Alcadon. He prepared the computer to depart again until an ominous groaning resounded through the cab. Immediately panicked Tryel frantically poked at the screen preparing to set off again, the groaning sounded again, it was so loud he could feel it. Wait a second. He placed his hand on his stomach, another groan, well that explained that. Tryel was suddenly aware that he hadn’t eaten anything since that morning, was it that morning, or the day before? And found himself to be painfully hungry. Well, he was in Khim, there must be an inn open that’ll spare him some food. He rifled through several drawers set into the front of the cab and pulled out a few dirty coins, even better he’d buy some food. He opened the door and set off toward the dimly lit village, bent near double with hunger.
Khim was a small village situated on the bank of the Tabi River, shipping high quality livestock and artisan crafts across the country. Unlike the villages of Sampras and Leb, Khim had rejected the technology Schultz had brought, preferring instead to live in the traditional fashion of their ancestors. Though shunning the technology the people of Khim did not however reject the engineering progress Schultz provided. Within the span of a decade Khim had been graced with indoor plumbing, running water, and a sewer system to keep the annual flooding of the Tabi at bay. The large brick tenement type buildings and cobbled stone streets were a strange juxtaposition from these people’s comparatively primitive lifestyle.
The village was completely silent, unusual; normally a village such as this would have at least some activity, even this late at night. The pubs should be rowdy and bursting with townsfolk, and yet they were quiet. Tryel’s footsteps echoed loudly across the broad, flat, buildings. He poked his head in a few of the empty establishments, nobody was there, mugs of ale and plates of food were still sitting at the tables. The chairs were carefully pushed out, as if everybody got up and left at once. Curious, Tryel stepped inside, he took a swig of ale and a bite of food from the nearest table, flat and cold; they’d clearly been there a while. Not wanting to miss an opportunity he wolfed down the cold meat pie and chugged the half empty pint down, he would get inoculated back in Alcadon in case they were tainted with something. With his belly full he resumed his search for the missing townsfolk.
He quickly walked down the street, poking his head through doorways, seeking the seemingly absent population, a few times he’d seen stirring but it always wound up being a cat or rodent. His rapid footsteps reverberated through the strange purgatorial void, growing faster and faster until he was jogging from door to door. After the fifth house he’d began to lose hope of finding anyone, how does an entire town just vanish? Finally one of the houses gave him the answer to that particular question, the answer he had dreaded. Upon opening the front door he felt it bump into something, stopping it from moving; he squeezed himself through the small gap to see if he could move the blockage. What he saw only confirmed his worst fears. It was a fashionable woman’s shoe, nothing unusual until taking into account that the woman’s foot was still inside of it. Tryel quickly shut the door and made to leave, Khim had no doubt been paid a visit by Medusa, and he wasn’t going to stick around to see the aftermath.
Tryel ran as fast as his legs could carry him towards the ATTV on the outskirts of town, the sound of his own footsteps was deafening. The route he took carried him parallel to the town center and through the gaps in the buildings he saw what happened to the townsfolk of Khim. A red mountain of flesh was piled up in the middle of the town square, the men, women and children had been reduced to a pile of shredded meat, just like the livestock they tended. Tryel’s recently eaten meal threatened to reappear. He turned away and kept running; there was nothing he could do, even if he’d warned them it’s doubtful that they’d have listened to him anyway.
He turned the corner and the ATTV came into view, his footsteps thundered across the grasslands like gunshots. He threw himself through the still open door and made doubly sure to set the computer on Alcadon this time. With the ATTV off once more Tryel huddled in the darkest corner of the storage compartment and waited, and wept.
Tryel looked around the cargo bay, what was making that noise? The bay was empty, of course… He stood up and carefully made his way to the front cabin, the rolling uneven terrain made it hard to walk. He found the source of the clicking, it was the tape reader doing normal startup procedures, Tryel let out a sigh of relief. Pulling the data tape cartridge from his pocket he gave it a look before feeding it into the reader set into the dashboard. He’d have to thank Doctor Fitsch for making these things standard after the recent security breach. With a buzz, the entirety of the Project Ariadne was downloaded to the central storage core of the ATTV.
Tryel wandered back into the storage bay, safe in the knowledge that the data was preserved. He sat against the far wall with a sigh of discomfort; he’d really have to think about exercising when he got back. He let out one final sigh and looked up at the ceiling, stretching his neck. He froze.
Looking down at him was Medusa; he’d left the door open… It silkily dropped from the ceiling, making no noise.
“Hello, little man.” Medusa’s voice was like a disease. “What do your insides look like?”
Tryel couldn’t even scream, his face was frozen in horror as Medusa darted forward and pinned him down, its spikes digging deep into his flesh. Slowly, savoring every scream and every snap, Medusa went to work.
Across the country, high up in his tower, Schultz sat in his office twiddling his thumbs. Ever since his media address it seems like he was needed less and less as the relevant people got on with their jobs. Good god he was bored. Meetings with heads of staff were sparse and he hadn’t seen, nor heard anything from, either Generals Sullivan or Burke since the day before. And despite being able to communicate with sign language, his Indra bodyguards weren’t particularly good conversation, Schultz was pretty sure that Famine was some sort of evil.
Schultz spun his chair, his view spun from his office door to his window. Even he was floored by the beauty of Alcadon; with the smog clearing he could see in full detail its sprawling chaotic magnificence. He really ought to snag a picture or two to admire when this was all over. His mind suddenly turned back to the Sons and his mood instantly soured. He kept spinning, a scowl twisting his face.
He grunted. “Alrigh—,“ his voice cracked. He cleared his throat and spoke again, “Alright Marge, what’s the news?”
Marge responded, “I’m sorry sweetie you’ll have to be it bit more specific than that, there’s a lot of news, what do you want to hear?”
Schultz thought for a moment. “How’s the crime rate?”
Marge made a fluttering sigh as she accessed Law Enforcement records. “Petty crime has increased by 25% while violent crime has risen by 67%, and the murder rate has quintupled.” Marge grunted in disgust. “Some of this stuff is really nasty… So this guy—.”
Schultz furrowed his brow not listening to Marge. “Disaster always invites disaster.” He spoke again, interrupting Marge’s retelling of the most brutal murder she could find. “I assume the prisons are full?”
Marge stuttered for a moment. “Fit to burst,” she finally said.
Schultz was silent. “We’ll have to bypass normal punishments,” he said rather hesitantly. “Send out a private message to the Judiciary Board that I leave punishment to the judge’s discretion; just get people out of those cells, and keep it quiet. Have any spies been apprehended?”
“There have been a swarm of accusations but it seems most are false reports.” Marge flicked through a bunch of filings, wow, some people were petty.
Schultz’ spinning chair came to a stop. “And the one’s that aren’t?” He began spinning again.
“The police have them locked up and they are currently awaiting trial.”
“Broadcast them, and send out a message advising the judges that innocent is not an acceptable outcome. We need to send a message, to both the Sons and our own.”
“Drumhead?” Asked Marge
Schultz nodded, his face grim. “Drumhead… The people need peace of mind, expedited judgment may just help with that.” Quickly finding himself out of things to enquire about. “What about gossip? Rumors, anything of note from abroad?”
Marge sounded excited. “The Indra are on the move.” At this Schultz perked up. “There have been sightings of all known Indra with the exception of Ghost, but that’s not unusual. Apparently they have all been moving in the direction of Alcadon.”
Schultz chuckled; perhaps the Indra could be useful. “So they were true to their word, erm, how are people reacting to this?” He already had one panic on his hands he didn’t need another.
“People are mainly confused, though most are understandably skeptical; some of these Indra haven’t been seen in over fifty years. The only sighting with multiple witnesses was in a small trading post in the southern Knoss Wetlands. Nearly two dozen people witnessed Wulf actually carrying a struggling Scorn.”
“Hmm, so even he’s coming along.” He sat still for a moment. “Relay a message to Death, I need him to direct all of our visitors to a place where they won’t be noticed, tell him my facilities are at his disposal, we already have enough trouble on our hands, we don’t need people getting any more ideas.” He sank back into thought.
“Also, one more thing.” Marge had a bit of news of her own.
“Hmm?” Schultz was clearly distracted.
“Neither the Kidjii Dig nor the listening posts on the Village of Khim have reported in several days, it is not thought to be a technical fault.”
“We’ll send somebody down later.” Schultz waved it off as he kept spinning.
He sat back, just watching the world spin. He sighed. Suddenly Fitsch was standing directly in front of him. Schultz nearly fell out of his chair.
“I found it!” she announced triumphantly slamming her hands on the desk. She quickly came around and ushered Laverne over to his private elevator. “Open it! Quick!” Her voice was as insistent as it was urgent.
Schultz flicked the nose and input the code. The elevator door slid open, Fitsch quickly bustled inside.
“Marge, lock this elevator, whatever signal you receive, you do not move it.”
Fitsch slammed her open palm into the access panel on the side of the elevator; it popped open revealing the standard mess of wiring and circuitry.
Schultz knelt down beside Fitsch, entranced by the speed with which she dismantled the mess. “What did you find?”
“I don’t know how they did it, but they did. It was almost flawless, a less than one microsecond disparity in the event logs.” She turned to Schultz, voice grim. “They bugged your elevator.” She pulled out a circuit board, affixed to it like a tumor was a small silver device. “It took over the elevator’s control from Marge and gave her a dummy program that fooled her into thinking she dropped Shelly off at the proper floor. They could’ve had you anywhere they wanted.”
Schultz’ eyes widened. “Clever dicks,” was all he could mumble.
Fitsch reassembled the elevator and hammered the panel back in place with her hand. Her voice was bordering on furious. “I’m taking this for testing, we might be able to determine where it was made if we give it a good enough teardown. If I find whoever tampered with Marge I will strangle them with her programming notes!” Fitsch stormed out of the office, leaving Schultz stuttering and wide-eyed.
The silence was broken by Marge crooning, “aww, she does love me.”
Chapter 7: Ellis
Another rainy night fell upon Alcadon; the crisp clean showers scoured away the last of the smog still hanging in the air and washed a flood of dirty brown water into the overwrought drainage systems. The city slowly returned to its routine, for the most part. Scattered factories in the industrial district had resumed operation pouring thick black smoke into the air, but the feeble pollution stood little chance against the incoming rain. The gathering gloom and poor weather had driven most indoors while the few who remained on the streets invariably had something nefarious in mind. The self imposed curfew was still in effect and the populace was on edge, more so than usual.
The only place that wasn’t barren of people was the enormous red light district in southern Alcadon, unofficially named Nicky Town. The buildings in Nicky Town weren’t as tall as their neighbors and seemed to be falling apart even quicker, the roads were potholed and rough. The area almost seemed purpose built to fall apart. Aiding in that was the government’s seeming disinterest in actually fixing anything. One didn’t drive in Nicky Town, it was practically impossible, if the road didn’t claim your car the people surely would. Bodies were a common sight in Nicky town, living, dead, or anywhere in between, if they hadn’t been picked clean by the urban scavengers then they soon would be. The worst of civilized humanity was on display for all to see, and nobody seemed to care too much about it.
Bars festooned the streets, from larger sit-down joints, to pop-ups on the sidewalks, establishments where one could get drunk quickly and easily were more than plentiful. In an attempt to drive up sales, each of these, seemingly infinite, bars had a specialty drink; some were pleasant, others vulgar, a few could even be classified as deadly. Cults of personality surrounded many of these drinks, with gangs of followers, who should frankly have better things to do with their time, fight and murder for them. Liquor was a religion in Nicky Town, and few types of spirit were quite as revered as Fellacian Absinthe.
Fellacian Absinthe was distilled in the small town of Leb, and oftentimes the surrounding area for various reasons. The makers and distributers had never been seen nor had they been caught, the recipe and distillation process was a complete secret, and for a very good reason. Fellacian Absinthe was illegal, highly illegal, only the ultra rich could afford both it, and the myriad fines that accompanied being caught with it. It was regarded as the strongest Alcohol known to man, a single shot would get you drunk, two would black you out, and three would make you pass out. If one had the ability to take a fourth shot they would die of alcohol poisoning. Not a single establishment in Nicky Town sold Fellacian Absinthe, they couldn’t afford to. All it took was one loudmouth and the entire city, thugs and law enforcement alike, would come down on the bar until all that was left was a burnt-out husk of a building.
If one were in the know however, there was one place that they could find Fellacian Absinthe. If one were to evade the many fights, muggings, murders, and other petty crimes, then turn down an unassuming alleyway on an unassuming street. Between the two crumbling tenement buildings they would find a door. Beyond this door was a bar unlike any other in Nicky Town, there were no signs, no indicators of there being an establishment, you had to be in the know to find this place.
The bar was a tidy little place, the hardwood floors were polished to a sheen and the brick walls were painted a clean white. The massive alcohol wall, containing hundreds of bottles, was immaculate, and so was the clientele. It was quite a juxtaposition to the dirty dingy exterior. This nameless bar, dubbed by the clientele as the ‘Gentleman’s Bar’, was visited by the highest in society when they felt at their lowest, and right now one of these high society folks, sitting at the bar, was feeling quite low indeed.
A young man with sandy brown hair, clad in a stained and scruffy military uniform was wilting over the bar. Ellis Schultz slumped forward burying his face in a large bowl of shelled peanuts; he’d been drinking that night, heavily drinking. He had just lost consciousness after downing his third shot of Fellacian Absinthe. The bartender, in an uncharacteristic show of generosity, decided not to charge Ellis for the shots, or the peanuts.
Ever since they found his sister’s body he’d been making regular visits to the Gentleman’s Bar to forget, to forget who he was, who she was, and just everything in general. On top of his now crippling alcoholism his performance in the military had spiraled, he was on the verge of dishonorable discharge after being demoted from Sergeant to Private First Class.
Ellis managed to pull himself into a conscious enough state to speak. “Barman… Another…” he drunkenly said to his bowl of peanuts.
The bartender looked up from the fancy drink he was mixing. “Sorry lad, I’m not givin’ you another; you’ve already had too much.” He returned to his art, after putting several drops of a clear liquid into the glass the liquid inside turned purple and fizzy. “The only drink I’ll give ya now is something t’clear your head.” He slid the glass down the counter to a man who wasn’t quite as depressed as Ellis.
Ellis roused from his drunken stupor pulling his face from the bowl of peanuts. “More booze?” he inquired drunkenly; he was barely coherent with the amount of slurring he was doing.
The bartender shook his head, his voice somber. “No lad, quite the opposite.”
Ellis didn’t hear what he said, a open mouthed smile stretched across his face. “I’ll take two…hic… please.”
The bartender let out a disappointed sigh. “Alright, but don’t blame me if your head explodes.”
The bartender turned around and opened a small specially labeled refrigeration unit and pulled out several ingredients, this was an unfortunately common drink. A thick purple liquid that stunk of fish, blended Algaeon root, sweet pickled beef, and a drop of clear liquid from an opaque black bottle were all dumped into a blender and made into a fine puree. A spritz of whipped cream and a cherry on top completed the horrendous grey concoction, for the taste.
“Here ya go lad.” He slid the glass in front of Ellis and watched him pick it up.
Looking dumbly at the mixture, Ellis gave it a little sniff.
“Don’ smell it, drink it, now!” The bartender said firmly.
Frightened by the stern bartender Ellis downed it in one gulp. He sat dumbly for a moment, whipped cream on his nose, a foul taste coating through his mouth and down his throat. He felt a burning sensation spread across his tongue, then a curdling sensation as if his mouth had turned inside out. His stomach turned and groaned, Ellis groaned along with it, then it hit. Almost as if struck he flew off the barstool and writhed on the ground; his brain simply couldn’t comprehend what his body was telling it. The few other patrons looked down with pity at the wretched soul dancing a horizontal jig on the floor; the depressed man with the purple drink didn’t even bother to look over. He looked almost as if he was seizing, a dark stain appeared on his pants. As suddenly as it started, the jitters ceased and Ellis lay still on the floor. He peeled himself off the floor and waddled back to the counter.
“Gimme another,” he slurred; his head fell forward and slammed into the counter. Not bothering to lift his head back up, Ellis sat on the nearest stool and waited for the next shot to appear before him.
Just as the bartender was about to mix another wake-up shot, the door opened and two well dressed men stepped inside. Both were tall and clad in high ranking military garb. A tense air filled the bar as the men approached Ellis.
The taller of the two placed a hand on Ellis’ shoulder. His voice was hushed. “Mr. Schultz if you would please come with us. Your uncle would like to have a word with you.”
Ellis ignored the two and sat swaying on the barstool. “I said gimme another, now!” His waning drunkenness had seemingly been coupled with anger as he twisted himself in the stool and threw a sloppy right hook at one of the men. “Oops!” Ellis overturned and flopped out of the barstool landing in an unconscious heap on the floor.
“Gentleman,” the bartender interjected as the two hauled Ellis up between them. “I hope y’have a good cleaning service for your car, ‘cause in ‘bout fifteen minutes you’re gonna need one.” His face was tired; he’d seen this happen before.
The shorter of the two gave Ellis a quick once over, before looking back at the bartender. “What’s wrong with him?”
The bartender pulled two chilled glasses from beneath the counter and filled them with crisp amber ale. “He drank the ‘wake-up’ shot, took it like a champ, I don’ need t’splain t’you what it does to a man.” He raised an eyebrow at the two.
The taller of the two shook his head. “No, you don’t.” The two were intimately familiar with what made that particular drink ‘tick’. He looked expectantly at the bartender. “I’m sure you have a bathroom.”
“Oh aye, you’re welcome to it, I’m not the one cleaning it up anyway.” The bartender jerked his thumb behind him toward a dimly lit hallway behind the bar. “Second door on the left.”
Twenty-five painful minutes later the two men finally had Ellis outside and were bundling him into their waiting car. “Alright get us out of here, back to base, quickly before people see,” one of the men said quietly to the driver.
The drive was agonizingly bumpy, they should have known better than to drive through Nicky Town. If they were trying to be discreet then they picked the wrong getaway method. Muggings and robberies were paused to watch and laugh at the idiots trying to drive down the road. In the backseat the two were having a difficult time keeping Ellis from flopping around like some sort of possessed marionette doll. Eventually the roads smoothed as the car exited Nicky Town, a sharp left was turned, away from the center of Alcadon, towards the industrial district.
Ellis awoke, bleary eyed, sitting in a comfortable chair opposite a homely, grey haired, heavily mustachioed, man. The small room he was in was empty, the walls were unadorned, and the paint was flaking in places, it stunk of chemical cleaners. The only objects of furniture were two chairs, an office desk, and a bright light set in the ceiling casting a soothing amber light over the whole affair. Upon seeing Ellis drifting back into consciousness the old man leaned over the desk and gave him a few gentle slaps to the cheek to expedite the process.
His voice was strong and deep, slowly turning gruff with age. “You awake there, son? Didn’t think you were for a moment. Three shots of Fellacian Absinthe have been known to kill y’know, especially when coupled with coupled with head trauma.” He chuckled good humouredly to himself as if the prospect of this pathetic man sitting opposite him dying was funny. Ellis was quickly regaining his senses as the wake-up shot continued to jolt his system. The old man leaned forward, resting his elbows on the desk. “But no time for that, it’s time for serious talk, think you’re up to that?”
Ellis nodded, sobriety had descended upon him rapidly and he was quickly taking in his surroundings. “Who are you?” he asked.
“Well, my name isn’t important, not as important as the group I work for at least.” He was silent, considering his next words carefully. “I am a member of the Sons of Light and Freedom, the group responsible for the death of your sister.”
At this Ellis slammed his hands on the desk and made to get up, at this he realized that he was secured to the chair and the chair was affixed to the floor. “You murderers! My sister was innocent, why did you kill her! You bastard I’m gonna kill you when I get out of this.” Ellis struggled violently but his bonds wouldn’t budge.
The old man kept his voice calm. “Now son, I understand your hatred for us, but we didn’t mean to kill her.”
Ellis wasn’t listening; he continued struggling at his bonds and kept screaming, “MURDERER!”
“Use your head kid!” The old man’s patience was wearing thin. “We killed her, yes, we didn’t know that it wasn’t Schultz in the elevator, she was an accident. She was as innocent in all of this as you are, and that’s why you’re so important to us.”
After several more minutes of futile struggling Ellis finally resigned to his fate. “OK… why am I here? Why have you abducted me and imprisoned me here?”
The old man leaned back in the chair and crossed his arms. “Well, I was just about to get to that before you had your little outburst.” The old man let out a long sigh. “First of all you haven’t been imprisoned; as soon as we’re done here you’re free to go.” He waved toward the door. “As for who we are… the Sons of Light and Freedom are a fringe organization working to remove Laverne T. Schultz from power over the city of Alcadon. We are not the technophobic terrorists your uncle says we are, though our motives are likely as unsavory as those that we have been accused of.” Ellis made to speak. “Hup, I’m not finished yet. I simply need you to answer a few questions, they may seem simple but I know for a fact that you cannot answer them.”
Ellis rolled his eyes; his rage had been supplanted by belligerence. “Alright, ask away, I don’t have any choice in the matter anyway.”
A small smile tugged at the edges of the old man’s mouth. “That’s the spirit, now… How old is the city of Alcadon? And how old is your uncle? Who are your parents?”He raised a finger with every question.
“Well… um… I-I… I don’t know.” Ellis had never thought of this before, how old was his uncle? How old was the city he lived in. Uncle Schultz had founded the city and yet… he felt a sharp pain, a pounding headache began to set in; he clasped his head with his hands pain shooting through his temples.
The old man pulled a tiny sphere from one of his pockets and placed it on the table. “Do you know what this is son?”
Ellis, glanced at the object. “No…” He shook his head. “What is it?”
The old man gave the sphere a small flick; it rolled and came to a stop in front of Ellis. “This is control; you’ll know more soon enough, you’re free to go.” He pressed a button on the underside of the table and Ellis’ restraints lifted. Ellis remained seated as the old man walked towards the door, leaving the small sphere on the table, before he left he gave Ellis one last piece of advice. “Oh, and I’d recommend against talking with your uncle about this.”
Ellis sat in a stunned silence, trying to comprehend what just happened, after a few minutes he finally stood up. Ellis stumbled out of the run-down factory where he was being held. After he regained his bearings he set off toward the center of the city, towards the Schultz building.
A disheveled Ellis stumbled into the main lobby of the Schultz building at around four in the morning. The walk had taken longer than expected, but the streets were thankfully empty. He made a beeline to the front desk.
“How can I help you sir?” asked the woman behind the desk, a very confused expression on her face.
“I need to speak with my uncle!” Ellis began frantically searching his pockets trying to find his ID card.
“And who would your uncle be?” She put on a slightly condescending tone, any old bozo could claim to be Schultz’ nephew, she’d already had fifteen or so that very night.
“Hah! There it is! I need to speak to my uncle Laverne T. Schultz!” A triumphant smile played on his lips as he showed the Special gold ID card to the clerk.
The woman’s eyes widened. “Yes of course right away Mr. Schultz, you do realize your uncle is liable to be sleeping at this time though, it woul—.“ She was cut off.
“My uncle never sleeps!” He was already running to the elevator.
“Fair enough,” she mumbled under her breath, she clicked an intercom button on her desk. “Mr. Schultz, your nephew is here to see you, and it sounds urgent.”
The elevator doors slid open and Ellis virtually jumped inside. He hammered the close door button.
“Now what do you think you’re doing, mashing my buttons like that?” Marge sounded indignant.
“I don’t need any of your sass computer! Take me to Schultz.” Ellis was not in the mood for Marge’s trademark sense of humor.
“Yeah, how about no—,“ She was silenced by Ellis waving the gold card. She sighed, “Yeah, OK.” The elevator began to move.
The ride had never seemed so long, Ellis furiously spun and paced around the small metal box, waiting, waiting, waiting. Marge had the presence of mind to stay quiet. After what seemed like an eternity a small ding sounded and the doors opened, his uncle was waiting for him.
Schultz’ face was pinched with worry. “Ellis! What’s wrong? No, no, let’s speak in private.” Schultz indicated the two Indra standing at the door at the end of the hall. “Come on, in my office.”
Walking briskly past the two guards Schultz dismissed them with a wave of his hand, War and Pestilence stood to attention and made their way to the elevator. Closing the door behind him Schultz let out a long sigh and massaged the bridge of his nose. “Alright, what’s wrong?” He looked so tired.
Ellis spoke hesitantly, trying to put his experience into words. “I just had the most unusual encounter with some ‘old friends’ of yours.”
Schultz cracked a smile. He spoke good humouredly, “Oh? I have plenty of ‘old friends’ which ones were they?”
“The Sons of Light and Freedom.”
Schultz face twisted into a look of disgust. His voice reflected his change in attitude. “Oh, them, come let’s sit down.” Schultz ushered Ellis to a comfortable sofa, as they sat Schultz offered Ellis some liquor, Ellis refused he’d had enough for the night. “Now I want you to be honest with me… What did they say, what did they want from you and what did you tell them?” He looked Ellis up and down, his face was bruised and his clothes soiled. “Did they do this to you as well?”
Ellis looked himself over and felt at his face. “No, this was all me… Uncle, it was so odd, they didn’t torture me, they didn’t even lay a finger on me, all they did was explain who they were, what they wanted, and asked me a few questions. They were polite, civilized people.”
Schultz squinted in confusion. “That’s very unlike them… what did they ask you?”
“They asked me how old you were and how old Alcadon is, uncle… I couldn’t answer them. Just thinking about it gives me headaches. The more I thought about it the more I realized… just who are you? Who are my parents? Are you my uncle?” Ellis’ head twitched as he was struck by another headache.
Schultz grabbed Ellis in a rough hug, as he pulled away Ellis could see tears streaming down his cheeks. “Oh, my boy, they got you too…” Schultz stood up and began pacing around the room. “Very few people know of this, honestly, most of them are dead at this point… I am not your uncle; we are in no way related.” He hesitated. “Your parents, both of them, died when you were very young. Your mother was very close to me, she worked under me for many years as my secretary. A damn good one she was too, a real fiery one, didn’t take shit from anybody, I think she even slapped Burke.” He smiled as he remembered. “One day, out of the blue, she announced she was pregnant and asked me to be your godfather, I gladly accepted. They were like the family I lost, I was so happy, for the first time in so many years I felt real, true, happiness.” He wiped away more tears. “It broke my heart when they died; I don’t think I’d ever gotten so close to anyone as I did your parents, they made me feel… normal. I adopted the two of you, their children, as my own. I wanted to protect you from what was out there, but it seems I failed, with both of you.
“But Uncle, they say you founded the city, but… it looks so old and you’re still a young man… how?”
Schultz sat down and poured some water from a pitcher on the side table. He offered Ellis some. “Please, let’s talk about this in the morning, it’s very late and I know for a fact that we’re both tired. I’ll lodge you in guest quarters for now; the Sons are liable to be after you tonight, I’m sure they told you not to talk to me. Before you go, do you remember the address of the factory you left?” Ellis nodded. “Could you write it down for me? I’ll send my people down there right away.”
Schultz went over to his desk where he grabbed a small pad of paper and his fountain pen; he came back over and offered them to Ellis. Ellis scribbled the address he saw then stood up. He groaned as he was hit with another headache.
Schultz ushered Ellis over to the two busts. “Here use my private elevator. I’ll explain what happened to my cabinet tomorrow, as soon as you’re safe. You can’t stay in Alcadon; after we talk tomorrow I’ll send you to a safe house to the south.”
The door noiselessly slid open and Ellis stood inside.
“Guest Level B,” Schultz said to the elevator, the doors closed and Ellis was whisked away. Schultz wandered back to the couch and poured himself a tall glass of whiskey. His eyes grew wet again.
“Marge…” he began.
The elevator ride was taking longer than expected and Marge was unusually absent. Ellis was beginning to grow nervous, soon though it drew to a stop. The door opened to a wall of darkness, and an indescribable stench poured in. A massive wad of pale flesh bolted into the elevator.
A scream and that reedy whistling laugh once more.
Chapter 8: Visitors
At such an early hour nobody paid much attention to the lone ATTV-C weaving its way through the mostly barren streets to the Schultz Building. It stopped expertly at every sign and stoplight, keeping perfectly within the lines. Maneuvering its way to the rear of the building it pulled into a large garage, the loading and storage dock for the Department of Engineering and Archaeology, not even pulling in a glance from the few technicians walking about. Quietly and precisely the ATTV pulled into a parking space and stopped. It was a few minutes before anybody actually noticed this extraneous vehicle.
Two technicians approached the vehicle, rightly confused, things normally ran like clockwork and rogue vehicles like this were unheard of.
“Alright Bergy, run the numbers, where the heck did this thing come from.”
Engineer Borgia began to tap at his palm computer. “Yeah alright, J7-65-I14, hmmm.” The readout on his palm computer read ‘Dr. L Tryel, Kidjii Dig’. “This sucker’s from Kidjii, it’s not due back for a couple months, so what the hell is it doing back here?” He began to walk around the vehicle trying to peer through the foggy tinted windows, they were virtually opaque.
The other engineer turned to look at Borgia. “OK, we’re cracking this thing open, what the hell is going on here? Radio Brummel to get down here, he should be in.” He began to inspect and fiddle with the driver’s side door.
Borgia held down a button on its side and lifted his palm computer to his mouth. “Doctor Brummel to Loading Bay Alpha, Doctor Brummel to Loading Bay Alpha.” The call went out over the PA system. He turned to see his friend struggling with the door. “It’s probably locked from the inside; don’t you have the master key?”
He groaned in annoyance as he kept pulling at the latch. “Of course I don’t have the master key, if I did I wouldn’t be struggling with this door, do you have one?”
“No.” Borgia admitted.
“Then shut up! We’re going to need the torches; this thing needs to be cut open.”
“Why are we cutting it open? We could just get the key.”
He turned to look at Borgia. “Look, if you want to wake up then explain to Spiffy why we have an errant ATTV in his garage go right ahead, remember what happened to Dahljia before he left?”
Borgia cringed; perhaps talking to Spiffy was a bad idea. “Isn’t there anyone inside?”
“If there was somebody inside the sensors would have detected them, the readout was negative, this thing is empty. Probably a damned computer error telling this thing to return home. We’ll get on the horn to Kidjii later to figure out what happened on their end.”
Borgia nodded and jogged off to the utility closet, he returned a few minutes later with the cutting torches followed closely by a confused and tired Doctor Brummel. The other Technician had marked out cutting points so as not to damage the internal locking mechanisms. Borgia lit the torch and began cutting, the other two stood a good ways away for safety reasons. After less than a minute of cutting there was a solid clang and the door slowly raised, its hydraulics hissing. Borgia pulled the equipment off to the side while the other two came forward. The three immediately recoiled at the stench that rushed out of the open vehicle. Death, the odor of festering, moldering, decay assaulted their noses.
Hand firmly pinching his nose shut Doctor Brummel addressed the techs, “OK you two, you go fetch a hazmat team, I’ll download the computer memory, get out of here before you get any greener.” He shooed them away, chances are whatever was in the ATTV was far above their pay-grade anyway.
As the two fled, Brummel hoisted himself into the ATTV, he sat in the driver’s seat taking short breaths through his mouth, he could almost taste the smell. Placing his palm computer on the vehicle’s display the two paired and automatically began exchanging data. It was taking longer than expected, there seemed to be a large amount of additional data in the storage banks, this was very unusual. Brummel placed the data in the compound computer and flagged it for immediate review. Checking the file names he saw the title ‘Project Ariadne’ he quickly tagged the files as classified and sent them directly to Doctor Fitsch, as he turned to leave Brummel saw into the cargo area, what he saw was stomach churning.
It was the body of Doctor Tryel, that much was unmistakable, as the head was the only part of the body that hadn’t been meticulously dismembered. Every organ in Tryel’s midsection had been carefully removed and dissected, sections of muscles and ligaments had been severed, and his arms had been partially flayed. Brummel was simultaneously impressed with the precision of the study and appalled at it having taken place on his close friend. Covering his mouth he quickly exited the vehicle. Leaning against the ATTV Brummel tried to catch his breath, Schultz had to be notified. This wasn’t the Sons, this was something different.
“If it’s any consolation my little round friend, he suffered… greatly.” Brummel whirled around to see the grotesque form of Medusa emerging from the vehicle. “I flayed his arms first, and then cut every tendon in his body, his screams were…” Medusa gave a shudder of pleasure and began advancing on Brummel who slowly backed away, face frozen in silent terror. “I took out his organs one by one; from least important to most, he was alive to some capacity by the time I took his liver. Such a strong little man, it was almost a pity to see him go. Will you be my new… plaything?” By this time Brummel had begun to flee. The spiderlike Medusa quickly followed.
Fumbling with his palm computer he tried to set off the alarm, in a flash it wasn’t there anymore along with the rest of his hand, jets of blood sprayed across the floor. Brummel screamed in agony but kept running, he had to get to the coordination office at the end of the loading bay, he could raise the alarm from there!
Brummel fell heavily; his Achilles tendon had been severed by Medusa. A wet rattling scream tore from Brummel’s mouth before Medusa silenced him forever.
Sighing in pleasure, Medusa set off down one of the spotless beige corridors in search of its fellow Indra.
LE was getting tired of sparring, that’s all she ever did, day in and day out, she’d memorized almost every technique and counter the other’s had taught her. Her only source of enjoyment was Kid and her odd ways, LE could laugh with Kid, and to an extent Pestilence, but the others were rather rigid. LE was doing agility training with Famine and Kid, ducking, dodging, and weaving through their punches effortlessly eventually her mind began to wander. A sharp jab to the face from Famine, coupled with a flying dropkick from Kid brought LE back to reality, she fell back heavily.
Famine crouched over her and placed a hand on her shoulder.“Your mind is wandering again little one, please take this seriously”. Their voice was disturbingly monotonous.
LE let out a grunt of frustration. “How can I take this seriously? It’s the same thing day after day; I’m just not being challenged anymore. Can’t we do something a bit more stimulating? Weapons training perhaps? Something with a little bit of risk involved?”
Famine thought for a moment. “It would be a good change of pace, but unfortunately you don’t have a weapon.”
In a flash Kid was off to where she’d stashed her swords, she lifted one of the many mats that lined the floors of the gym and popped up several loosened floorboards. She pulled out her usual three swords and one LE had never seen before. Kid excitedly ran back, dragging the massive sword behind her and presented it to LE.
“Here ya go Ellie, use this one!” Kid insisted on calling her Ellie, LE actually rather like the name.
The sword was easily seven feet long and nearly six inches wide, it had a strange flat top and was perforated with holes. The hilt was very short, only allowing it to be held with one hand.
LE gingerly held the sword, it was bulky, and far too big for anybody to feasibly use. “Erm, where did you get this?” She gave it a tentative swing; perhaps it wasn’t as bulky as she thought.
Famine loomed behind Kid, head tilted inquisitively. “Yes Kid, where did you get this sword? I thought you only had three, not four, you didn’t steal it did you?”
“No! Wall gave it to me.”Kid was instantly defensive. “He said he didn’t need it and that I should have it since I have so many swords already. It was too big for me so I hid it here in case he wanted it back!”
Famine walked from behind Kid, now facing LE, they pawed at the hilt of their own sword, a four foot long bastard sword. “Hmm, I don’t entirely believe you, but since Wall will be here shortly I don’t think it would hurt to let LE borrow it for now.”
LE stopped swinging and looked at Famine. “Wait, he’ll be coming here?”
Famine nodded. “Yes, in a short while, Death has gone out and collected our fellow Indra, who all have come specifically to meet you.”They looked toward the elevator.“In fact I think it’s about time to collect my siblings, they’re currently guarding Schultz, I wouldn’t want for them to miss this meeting.”
As if on cue the elevator doors opened, War and Pestilence stepped into the gymnasium.
Famine waved them over.“I was just about to collect you from Schultz.”
Pestilence shook her head as she jogged over. “No need, he dismissed us himself, he needed some private time with his nephew and so we—.”
“Excellent,”Kid interjected, “I have an idea, just hear me out, this should be fun.”She was bouncing excitedly.
War held his hand up to silence her. “Kid we don’t have time for your shenanigans, the others are about to arrive, they’re in the building now; I felt them while in the elevator.”
“No, no, this should be perfect, Ellie’s been complaining that she hasn’t had a good challenge in a while and this should be the perfect way to give it to her, it’ll also be a really cool reveal for her. I know how dramatic you guys are, it should be perfect.”
Pestilence and War stuttered and Famine nodded their head. “We do have quite a flair for the dramatic; I see no harm in indulging.”
War and Pestilence resigned themselves to their fate, there was no stopping Kid when she had an idea.“Very well what’s your plan?”War asked.
The Indra assembled in the lobby, the eclectic group made for interesting viewing for the few people moving through, mainly janitorial staff and the rightfully confused desk attendant. Death took a quick head count, everybody was there with only three absences, the three he was most worried about. Before he could voice his concerns he heard a deep buzzing sound, Pixia landed gracefully in front of the revolving door. She pushed at it but due to it being powered down it refused to budge; she tried a few more times until giving up. She pulled at the adjacent door only to find it was a push door. She walked up to the group, trying to hide her embarrassment.
“Smooth!” called Inferno.
“Hey can you blame me? I mean, I haven’t had to use doors in like…” She counted her fingers. “Forty, maybe fifty years. I’m a bit out of practice.”
“Yeah, justify it all you want.” Inferno seemed intent on heckling her. He was quickly silenced by a slap on the back of the head by Wulf.
Inferno whirled around and stared down Wulf; Wulf simply crossed his arms, animal skin cape rustling quietly, and stared back.
The tension was palpable. Lethe stepped forward and slapped both of them.
“We’ve been back together for less than half an hour and you’re already back to your old shit. Inferno, don’t you have anything better to do than be irritating? And Wulf, use your words next time.”He gave them another slap each, they both wilted slightly.
Valkyrie gave a satisfied huff then muttered to the person next to her. “I’m glad he did it before I did.”
She froze, realizing that there wasn’t anybody beside her seconds prior, and then looked over to see who she was talking to. She jumped back slightly, the heavily clad Ghost standing silently beside her. Their cloak was wrapped tightly around their body, hiding every inch from sight.
Valkyrie sighed sadly. “Still wrapped up I see.”
“When this is all over we need to have a chat.”Valkyrie made to wrap her arm over Ghost’s shoulders.
Ghost shook their head, and drew back avoiding the friendly gesture.
Valkyrie groaned unhappily and looked at the bickering Indra, Death had joined the fray and now the four were in a back and forth argument. “What a mess we’ve become. What happened to us?”
Anon rose up behind the two, and wrapped his arms around Ghost and Valkyrie’s shoulders. “I think it’s their human natures asserting themselves. After all of this time being in operation we’ve slowly begun to lose our minds as the manhandling we received at the hands of the military conflicts with our real-world experience.” He gave the two a little jostle. “Hey Vee.”
Valkyrie laughed and jostled back. “Nah, I think we’ve always been like this. But you haven’t changed much old man, still spouting pseudo-philosophical mumbo jumbo.”Valkyrie looked over and saw Ghost struggling in Anon’s tight grip.
Anon chuckled, unfazed by Ghost’s valiant struggling. “That’s what I do, also I cook now.”
Valkyrie was legitimately surprised. “Really? Who do you cook for?”
Anon’s tone was modest. “Oh, the researchers who come and visit every so often, you’d be surprised what one can make with some roots, flowers and a really hot rock. What about you? Still loitering in Kvasstch?”
Valkyrie shrugged. “Yeah, I haven’t been doing much, mostly just waving at passing boats, just sort of existing.”
“Eh, could be worse, you could be holed up in a volcano, or a crater, at least you have some nature to look at.”He looked over at Ghost. “I won’t even bother asking you where you’ve been, I know you won’t tell me.”
Ghost finally broke from Anon’s grip and skittered away into the shadows.
Valkyrie watched Ghost sadly. “Of all of us, I worry about her the most.”
Anon’s tone was similarly morose. “We’ll get through to her someday, but until then we can only wait.”
The sound of the door being opened forcefully made the two turn to see the newcomer. Bolt stood framed in the large doorway, despite her short stature the poisonous aura of malice she gave off was towering. The Indra grew silent; none of them actually expected her to make the trip from the Olosos crater to Alcadon. Relations with her were tense after she held those who discovered her hostage, she’d always been hostile toward humans but that was the first time she’d been openly aggressive. She stepped into the lobby, her footsteps making small thuds, betraying her deceptive bulkiness. She stopped in front of the Indra, and cut a slightly irritated pose and said nothing; her hostility was almost a tangible cloud around her being.
She scanned the Indra, they hadn’t changed, not one bit, until her gaze fixed on Valkyrie. She sprinted, making a beeline straight towards her; Bolt leapt and tackled her with a flying hug. The two went down in a tangle of limbs, the Indra let out a sigh of relief and went back to their chatting and bickering.
Valkyrie let out a good-natured, though slightly strained, laugh as Bolt squeezed her tighter.
“Alright! Enough!”Death clapped his hands together to gain everyone’s attention. “We can continue this in the gym after you all meet LE, Inferno, Wulf, separate elevators. C’mon! Also, ignore the elevators they will be very chatty, don’t let it get to you.”
Luckily for the visiting Indra there were multiple elevators down to the gymnasium, trying to fit all of them into a single elevator would have been a nightmare. The elevators dinged in unison as the doors opened to the gym and a scene of absolute carnage, nearly half the gym was destroyed. The floors were shredded and shattered and the broken bodies of War, Pestilence, Famine, and Kid were strewn about the floor, weapons in hand. What sort of creature could defeat four fully armed Indra?
The Indra streamed from the elevators inspecting the damage, could this be the doing of the new Indra LE? Weapons were drawn and all were on high alert, could this be a repeat from last time?
Kid shakily raised her arm and waved them over.
Death crouched over her scanning the gym. “What happened!? Where’s LE, did she do this?”
Her voice was weak. “Y-yes, she got a weapon and went mad, we couldn’t even land a hit on her, she’s just too strong.”Kid fell unconscious.
Just then a deep rumbling could be heard and the floor beneath the Indra’s feet began to shake violently. Erupting from the floor, LE sent splinters of wood and shredded mat across the room, spraying the gathered Indra with debris, she landed several meters away. She cut a daunting sight, a near eight foot tall block of muscle emanating an angry red aura advancing upon the Indra twirling a massive sword above her head like it weighed nothing. She came to a stop, eyeing up the collected Indra she could feel their thoughts barraging her, but she held them at bay. Using a clever trick taught to her by Kid she blotted the thoughts of the others out entirely, soon she felt nothing from them at all. LE fell into a defensive position and with a deafening roar of her air jets she rushed them.
The Indra were not prepared for the speed of her onslaught, before they could even brace themselves LE was among them. Scorn and Valkyrie were bowled over and flung into the nearby wall. Wall, the only other Indra near LE’s size, grabbed her about the shoulders in a bear hug in an attempt to hold her still. LE, undaunted, used a similar trick like the one she saw Kid use on Pestilence the day she first met her. Using the air jets on her legs LE blasted herself off of the ground in an arc over Wall’s head; the force of this sudden movement broke his hold on her. With her arms free, she took hold of Wall’s shoulders and used her momentum to fling him in a high arc across the gym.
The Indra formed a loose circle around her, barring her escape, Wulf stepped forward, keen to take on this new foe. Throwing his bow aside he clutched his cudgel with both hands and rushed her. LE feinted to the left holding her sword outstretched so that Wulf would run into the flat of the blade. Wulf saw this and ducked underneath the sword, a hit like that could have torn him in half regardless if it was the flat or not. LE spun, blade outstretched, to face her foe once more. Unfortunately her unintentional strike smacked Lethe square in the chest, sending him whirling across the floor and into the arms of Wall who had regained his footing. LE did not let this accident distract her; her foe was Wulf, who was proving to be a wily foe indeed.
LE threw a hard left swing at Wulf, he ducked underneath the slow swing and landed a solid blow directly into her side with the cudgel. A sharp crack rebounded through the gym. Much to the dismay of Wulf it was not his foe that broke, it was his cudgel. His reflexes dulled by shock, he couldn’t dodge the massive foot as it tore him from the makeshift arena. He rocketed across the gym and lay still, still holding his broken cudgel.
Bolt hefted her weapon, her Arc Gun; a loud humming could be heard as it built up power. Valkyrie smacked it down before it could be discharged; Bolt looked aggressively at her then stepped back. Valkyrie gestured to Pixia, they stepped forward each holding their blade of choice, a thin straight sword and a massive battleaxe. Valkyrie rushed forward trying to land a direct blow; LE leapt feet first and caught the unfortunate Valkyrie’s head between her legs. LE landed, still clenching Valkyrie’s head, and twisted her body flinging Valkyrie to the sidelines where she landed heavily, this left Pixia. Pixia launched upwards, taking flight with her wings and attempted to land a downward strike on her foe, LE was too quick. The flat of the massive sword appeared in Pixia’s way almost instantly, catching the unfortunate head on. Pixia was thrust to the ground beneath the sword where she was left unconscious.
Taking advantage of LE’s follow through, Wall rose up behind her and wrapped her again in a bear hug disarming her in the process. LE tried to blast out of it again but his grip was too strong, that trick wasn’t going to work a second time. Not good, not good! Like a wave the remaining Indra began to wale on her, she felt a piercing shock on her thigh, and saw Lethe pull the prongs of his baton from her leg. For the first time in a long time LE felt pain, there must be a way out of this! Well, if she couldn’t dislodge Wall she’d just have to take him with her. She inhaled deeply, expanding muscles pushing against Wall’s stout grip, and directed all of the force to her feet; she was going to blast off like a rocket! The massive force tore through the poor abused training mats; foam flew everywhere, in an instant where two massive Indra once stood there was only air.
A massive crash could be heard above the heads of the confused Indra, large chunks of the ceiling began to fall among them. Wall was the first to hit the floor, out cold. LE gracefully landed and rearmed herself, beckoning for another to challenge her. Ghost stepped forward; this clearly meant something to the others as they all fled a fair distance. This Indra, clad in its heavy grey cloak held many mysteries, and it was LE’s turn to learn them. Ghost whipped off their cloak and…
What stood before her was likely the pinnacle of the female figure, taken aback by Ghost’s beauty LE dropped her guard for just one moment. A massive blow to the stomach brought her back to reality; she could feel the force of the punch bend her flesh like clay. Taking advantage of LE’s distraction Ghost wove her way through her defensive pose in an instant and landed the mighty blow. LE was torn from the ground and landed in a clumsy backward roll into her defensive position. She cast away the sword; it was too slow and clumsy for an opponent such as this. She curled her massive hands into fists and waited for her opponent’s next move. Ghost crouched slightly, preparing another strike, she was shaking slightly, as if she was excited.
The joyful ding of the elevator sounded, followed by the scream of metal being shredded. The elevator doors were torn open as effortlessly as one would tear a sheet of paper. The conflict was halted, everyone present turned to this new threat. The sturdy elevator doors, now a shredded mess, were cast aside by Medusa who emerged in a spray of sparks and metal splinters.
“Aww, how sweet, a nice, little, family reunion.” The wet rattle that was Medusa’s voice spread across the gathered Indra like a toxin. “It’s too bad that I… was not invited, what a shame.” Medusa slithered from the wreckage of the elevator and made toward the group, everyone was on alert, this was serious. Medusa jumped a bit when it saw LE. “Oh my! How delightful, we have a new, baby… sister, how they grow.” Medusa hunkered low as if preparing to pounce then resumed, drawing closer to the gathered Indra, it was mere meters from the main group. “You know, I never could stand children, too loud, not enough mess, too… fragile. Exert any force on a child and poof.” Medusa lashed out rending a massive gash in Valkyrie’s chest. “They die…”
Valkyrie convulsed on the ground before going still, a thick black liquid oozed from the massive wound. Bolt and Ghost noticeably jumped in shock, Bolt lifted the Arc Gun and Ghost broke in a sprint toward Valkyrie.
Medusa cackled with glee, it finally killed her. The joy of revenge filled her with such bliss. “See? So weak, so… fragile, pathetic.”
In unison Wall, and Wulf rushed Medusa in an attempt to pin it. As if it were liquid, Medusa slithered beneath them; it dodged an arc of electricity from Bolt, and pounced onto LE’s chest.
Medusa’s frozen features filled LE’s view, the pale impassive face seemed to judge her. Medusa whispered, “Hello little sister, what do your insides look like? I am so very curious.” Medusa slid its claws into LE’s chest and everything went black.
Medusa could feel the flesh of its baby sister shift and split as they dug their claws deeper into it, Medusa’s joy grew. Their hackles rose, it vaulted from their sister’s crumbled body, flying over Wall and Wulf as they tried, again, to pin it down. Medusa landed a short distance from the main group; they all whirled to face it, Ghost dragged Valkyrie’s body away from the fight. Medusa could feel their gazes piercing its very being, it filled them with such warmth to feel their hatred, if Medusa had a mouth it would no doubt be twisted into a wicked smile.
It could feel their scheming, their planning on how to take it down. Medusa wasn’t going to give them time to ponder, now was time to act. Medusa rushed them, its sharp spikes shredding the foam mats on the floor. The Indra scattered, of course they scattered, they were afraid. Medusa suddenly felt its insides twist, a blossom of pain spread through its body. As it left the ground Medusa twisted its body, it could see Ghost still following through on her punch. Medusa felt something dislodge deep in their core, a new pain began to spread, an icy cold pain contrasted with the fiery heat of the punch.
Medusa yowled with rage and sped toward Ghost who backed up to the main group. The Indra spread out around Medusa and leapt upon it in a massive tangle of limbs. Medusa flailed wildly, it could feel its spikes pass through and puncture the flesh of the others. Poising its weight Medusa leapt from the scrum, reaching out it dug its spikes into the ceiling. Swinging its rear legs Medusa flipped away from the Indra, it landed heavily some ways away.
Turning to face the Indra, Medusa saw that both Wall and Kid were laid out and moving weakly. Jets of black slime spewed from his severed arm and her severed hand.
Medusa chuckled. All Medusa had to do was kill its little brothers and sisters then it could go about its business… unhindered.
The lights began to flicker; an acrid stench flowed in from the destroyed elevator shaft. A tangible cloud of foul green gas wafted into the gym. The lights went out entirely, red emergency lighting blinked on. Pained mechanical breathing echoed up the shaft, heavy clangs and smashes could be heard. Two sickly pale arms clutched at the edge of the ruined doorway, two more followed. A pale quivering mass of flesh with two beady eyes pasted in its center entered the gym.
The breathing was heavier as it scented Medusa.
It screamed. “Hello shiny!”
The Indra had fled to the far side of the gym, pulling Wall, Kid, and Valkyrie with them, leaving Medusa alone to face the creature.
The strange creature scuttled toward Medusa on all fours, it had a third pair of arms!?
Medusa ducked as the thing clumsily grabbed at it, casually flicking one of its spikes at the thing’s side, Medusa was rewarded with a scream of pain. The foul odor of the thing began to make Medusa feel lightheaded; the odor of Medusa’s tomb couldn’t hold a candle to the stench of this thing. The thing wrapped its two upper arms around Medusa’s neck and began to squeeze, Medusa could feel its biomass and cabling snap and pop. Twisting its body, Medusa plunged its rear left spike into the thing’s side, burying almost up to the joint.
The thing flailed and gyrated, its flesh making disgusting slopping noises as it thrashed about. Medusa began to hack and slash it the mass of quivering flesh that was its opponent. The screeching the thing made nearly deafened Medusa, who simply redoubled their efforts to destroy it. The thing landed several more flailing blows to Medusa, one breaking the tip off of its front left spike and another virtually caving in its underside. For all the damage Medusa was doing the thing didn’t seem to be slowed by any of it.
The icy cascading pain struck Medusa once again, it nearly collapsed the pain was so intense.
It was time to go. Medusa could still carry out its task, death was not an option.
Medusa swiped at the thing’s hand-like feet severing several tendons. The thing stumbled, still screeching. Medusa fled back to the elevator shaft. As the shrieking faded into the distance Medusa could hear something new, a quiet cacophony of voices calling it north.